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A captivating blog post from 2021-2022 student-Connor Teskey

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Connor climbing aloft on the Alex II tallship

A sailor lives an extraordinary life, flirting with danger, utilizing it to their advantage to travel to their desired location. A sailor chooses a home isolated from the rest of the world, living in a small community travelling across a wet and unforgiving desert we call the ocean. I’m sitting here as I write this in likely the most intense weather I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I’ve been sailing since the age of 2. I’m in my bunk as the ship rolls on port side. I just want to note that once you hit what feels like 45 degrees your walls become just as much your floor as the floor becomes your walls. In this type of sea state, it’s no question to assume that simple tasks such as eating a bowl of cereal, opening doors, or even walking down a hallway becomes trivial. I look out my porthole to see the raging ocean stir and spray in the whirling gusts of 50-60kts. My view occasionally gets dunked below the sea line and fills my room with the sapphire blue hue of the North Atlantic.

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A cabin aboard the Alex II tallship

The most beautiful is at night. when my porthole goes under, I’m unable to see much, but what I am able to see is swirling blueish green light of the bioluminescence in the water. They appear as pinpoints like stars swirling in the sky. The water itself isn’t glowing, it’s these microorganisms floating about that produce such wondrous lights. The night isn’t all fun as this is your time to sleep. This is made extremely difficult by the noises so common around this ship. You will never find anywhere on this ship that’s completely silent and my room is no exception. Some sounds I don’t mind and actually quite enjoy, such as the roar of the wind, or the splashing of waves against the hull. The noises that are less than optimal would be the everlasting croak that my bunk produces in the rolls. There’s also the engine room below us which creates a slight rumble, this isn’t too bad however. Our soundscape is also filled with alarms from our neighbouring engineers who wake up throughout the night to ensure the engine is running to perfection. Some nights onboard it’s impossible to sleep, it’s inevitable. Some nights you’re rolling back and forth 30+ degrees from port to starboard, feeling like you’re getting slammed into your wall, and then the next second nearly getting thrown from your bunk. It’s these nights that I put in my earbuds, choose my favourite music (most commonly an atmospheric Pink Floyd playlist) and just roll around bracing myself when needed while watching the swirling lights just outside the glass of my porthole. 

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Connor and fellow crewmate

This might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I actually do enjoy these sleepless nights. It’s not that often that you can say you had to grip for dear life to not get thrown from one end of your room to another while blasting Pink Floyd’s mental song bike on repeat while slowly going crazy from sleep deprivation. It may not be fun in the moment and you may have the lines “I’ve got a bike you can ride it if you like it’s got a basket, a bell, and things to make it look good” stuck in your head, but that’s what sailing is all about. It’s overcoming the challenges of daily life made more difficult by your increased isolation and environment literally moving the ground of which you walk on on a constant basis. When it’s all said and done, we get to return home to our stable ground and bring back these stories of triumph, and adventure. This is a lifestyle that constantly sends you outside your comfort zone. This lifestyle can be the source of trust in yourself to know your capable of overcoming occasionally dangerous situations. You will never truly know how you’ll act under pressure until you’ve experienced some pressure, and that is an insanely valuable experience to have.

The life of a sailor isn’t something easily conveyed to somebody who hasn’t experience the lifestyle for themselves. No matter how many stories are told, no matter how much you think you understand the life, you probably don’t know the full extent of it unless you’ve lived it yourself. It’s filled with beauty, agony, loneliness, wonder, and adventure. It’s a concoction that has somehow fueled my love for the ocean. The difficulties give you perspective of your own capabilities, and they give you challenge that feels amazing to overcome. You may be on deck on a calm day watching the flying fish pop out of the water avoiding predators, or you may be down below on a rough day preying on flying plates, catching them before they hit the ground with the all too familiar ear shattering clash of porcelain on the deck. Each day is different. Each day brings new challenges, some days more than others. It’s this freshness to each day that makes conveying the lifestyle so incredibly difficult to land lubbers. No story can perfectly capture the life a sailor lives, it can only capture moments chosen carefully to create a good narrative for the listener. These stories either leaving out most of the positives of your day focusing entirely on the negatives of your day, and the opposite. It’s this lack of ability to provide the full picture of the sailor’s experience that gives it mystical qualities, leaving the listener in needs for the missing puzzle pieces. You’ll never find the missing puzzle pieces of somebody else’s story; you can only create your own new puzzle of which only you can hold every single piece. This is what drives me to sea. The knowledge that my story is my own land that nobody can take away the challenges you’ve overcome is liberating. In this micro environment everything you do matters, and even the smallest shortcomings in your effort can be quickly seen through its effects on your small community. Your effects on your community no longer feel invisible as they so commonly do when on land. On a ship you become an important contributor to your community and that’s a great thing. The life of a sailor is many things. It’s the good the bad and the ugly, but when put together the good overcomes, and creates a beautiful way of life.



For those adventurers who have a love of photography, Class Afloat is such an incredible opportunity to capture the world through their lens. Each and every floatie (aka student) has a different perspective and many have shared their journeys over the years on social media.

Currently, in our 2021-2022 academic year, we have a student very interested in film and production. Check out his Youtube channel, with beautiful footage of their experiences thus far. Click here to check it out!

Stay tuned for more footage, as they cross the Atlantic over the holidays!

Written November 5, 2021

257819 Ef97e39670dd48f88d36215aaf509d5d Mv2I am aboard a tall ship at last! I should start where I left off, however, in Spain. Since leaving there our crew has visited four countries; France, (briefly) Belgium, Netherlands, and at last our ship’s homeport in Bremerhaven, Germany.

It was a mere seventeen-hour bus drive from UNEDCO to our first stop in Bordeaux, France. It was the longest trip I’ve been on by plane or by vehicle, and I can’t say it was pleasant. We did stop every three hours or so at a gas station to stretch and buy snacks, but nonetheless it was a long day, and we did not arrive at our hostel until close to three in the morning. Several of our bags, including my own, had been left at the facility back in Spain and required a taxi to travel through the night to bring them to us; but my fellow crew were generous in lending me some extra toiletries and a change of clothes for shore leave the following day in Bordeaux.

The season seemed to change during our drive from Spain to France and we awoke in the morning to fall colours and sub-20 weather. The tram is 3 euro for a 24-hour pass and can take you anywhere you need to go in the city, so after a breakfast of assorted French pastries, my group and I took the tram to the riverside. We followed the narrow, cobbled streets crowded with café patios and bicycles to the popular sights of the Grande Théâtre, Place des Quinconces, Vielles Ville, and Cathedrale Saint-Andre. The fountains, statues, and castle towers were impressive, but it was the cathedral that was the most interesting to me. From what I could gather from the french signs, it was originally consecrated in 1096. Aside from the towering ceiling and countless stained-glass windows, a completely gold-plated pipe organ took up the whole back wall and smaller chapels dedicated to various saints ringed the outer walls around the main large service area. There were tombs of previous church figures with statues adorning the coffins. It smelt damp and dusty and old. Candles burned on shelves almost everywhere you looked. The energy was like nothing I had ever felt before; ancient, solemn.

Dinner, naturally, consisted of crepes and a dessert of macaroons. A carnival was set up in the main square of the city and from the top of the ferris wheel one could see the lights of Bordeaux endlessly sprawling out, with the river winding through and the odd church tower jutting out above the rooftops. We had cotton candy, churros, and went on rides until we were exhausted.

The next day was drizzly and grey, so we spent most of it at the Muśe des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux before leaving in the afternoon for yet another seventeen-hour bus ride; this time to a summer-camp facility called Forest Lodge just outside the small village of Heino in the Netherlands. While I did not get one hour of sleep the entire overnight ride, at least on this trip my seabag came with me.

It was lovely to watch the sunrise over the green, misty fields in the Netherlands. Dairy cows and dykes broke up the countryside. It really is as flat as they say it is here. Maybe I am biased due to my heritage, but the Netherlands to me had a peaceful and comforting effect. The three days spent at Forest Lodge were the perfect transition time to rest and reset before boarding the boat. The cabins were warm and comfortable. There was a high-ropes course and climbing wall for us to practice our mast climbing skills. We could go on runs in the morning or evenings to the village and there was plenty of space to have soccer games on the grounds. Coffee, tea, and Dutch cookies were made always available, and the soup served at lunch every day tasted exactly like the way my Pake (grandpa) used to make it. To have space, sleep, and familiar food was what I needed after a month of very little of those three things.

Our last afternoon we were given shore leave in Giethoorn, or “the Venice of Netherlands”; a small idyllic village with thatched roof houses, well-kept gardens, and canals running everywhere in the place of streets. Families putted around in little boats and every house had a bridge running to it from the sidewalk on the opposite side on the canal. Later, to celebrate our last evening on shore, we visited the “Sailor’s bar”, an old ship on the grounds of Forest Lodge that is decked out with marine paraphernalia. Old figureheads and anchors, helms, charts, paintings of famous ships, and such covered every inch of the wooden interior. There was dancing and sea chanties and supper and soda (no alcohol permitted for Class Afloat students).

The next morning felt like Christmas, and the excitement just kept building on our final bus ride to the ship in Bremerhaven. The first glance at what would my home for the next six months had my heart in my throat. During the covid tests, unpacking, and the ship tour I just couldn’t believe I was finally aboard the Alexander Von Humboldt II. The smell, the gentle rocking, the rigging, it all felt so foreign and yet familiar. I am very keen to get to know each of the ropes and every detail about the ship, but I keep telling myself that there will be plenty of time and opportunity ahead of me to do so and that I must be patient. The ship and I will get to know one another. In the meantime, there is allot of safety drills, provisioning, and sail preparation to do before we depart on the first leg of our voyage, which will be nineteen days of sailing to Funchal, Madeira. Sailing in the North Sea and through the Bay of Biscay in November is an undertaking, I am told. I am not feeling ready, but at the same time I will never be more prepared. It is time to go out and experience everything that is to come, whatever that may be.

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Foto: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa

Written November 28, 2021

Adaptability is key when attempting to do anything on a ship, and sleeping is no exception. Berths aboard are about six feet long and not quite tall enough to sit up in. The first step, when attempting to get some sleep aboard, is to take the bulky emergency life vest that takes up so much of your small storage space, and stuff it under one side of your mattress so that it tilts towards the wall. This puts the mattress on such an angle that it wedges you between it and the wall. This gives you some hope of staying put, and not rolling around in your berth. There is a flip-up wooden board along the edge of the berth entrance that should be latched in the “up” position, so that you don’t get launched from your bed with the ship’s rolling and heaving. However, this only extends about five inches above the mattress, so it is always a good idea to then take the fabric flap attached to your mattress and tie it up to the ceiling so that the opening to your berth is now completely closed off, and there is no way you could tumble out in the night. When going to bed, which, if you are on the 2-4am watch like I am, happens around 1930, you may get a false sense of security if, as you retire, the sea state is calm and there is little movement. Never count on this condition continuing. Ensure you still follow the above procedures, or you will likely have a rude awakening on the floor five feet below your berth a few hours later. Trust me on this one.

Sleeping is not the only activity that requires you to counter the movement of the ship. Walking becomes something between a stumble and a dance. Going up and down stairs or even opening and closing doors requires some substantial effort to avoid getting hurt. One hand for you, one hand for the boat. Always. Keep an eye on your food, especially your drink or soup, or you’ll end up cleaning it off the floor. With university courses to attend, backshaft (chore) duties, and four hours of watch a day one must also adapt to limited amount of sleep. Eventually, your stomach and ears stop fighting about whether you are moving or not and adapt as well.

One of the more interesting things an English speaker must adapt to on the Alex-II, however, is sailing in German. Conversations and basic instructions may be conducted in English, but any official commands and all the parts of the boat are, without exception, spoken in German. At first it can be quite the challenge, but like anything on board, it becomes familiar and instinctual with time.

I believe that was what this first leg of our journey was all about… adapting. Merging school with sailing, Alex-II with Classafloat. And I realize that with all the adjusting I am working hard to accomplish in this new and sometimes intense environment, I must also remind myself not to take anything for granted. I don’t think I will ever get used to the dolphins playing in our bow wave during almost every sunset. The stars on night watch will never get old. And for some reason, I’m still surprised in the morning when I come up on deck and see a horizon of water completely surrounding me. Every time there’s a call for someone to help furl sails or fix ratlines up in the rigging I want to go up, and I still get excited when it’s announced that we are bracing the yards or setting the sails. I don’t want that to stop. In five months, I hope that my competence and confidence around the ship will have increased, but I don’t want the sense of wonder surrounding my life and work here onboard to ever change.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to spend a day at sea on board a tall ship while crossing the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean?

In this update from the ship, our Deckhand, Nicholas, shares a close encounter with a pod of dolphins, a handful of orca and a chase that had everyone on the edge of their seat.

UTC/DATE/TIME: 09:00 12-04-2020
BOARD DATE/TIME: 08:00 12-04-2020
POSITION: 44º59’N   026º48’W
HEADING:  043º (North East)
SEA STATE: The rolling waves from the West have lessened a little
resulting in the ship rolling much less than yesterday morning.
AIR TEMP: 13º C, 57º F
SAILS CARRIED: We are still motoring along.
LOG KEEPER: Nicholas

“Yesterday was a beautiful day. It started out with a whale of a tale, as a pod of Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus), or cachalot, were spotted, the largest of the toothed whales. We altered course and observed them for an hour. The closest we came was when a mother and her calf swam right off the port bow. It was breathtaking.

As we saw them dive, we thought that would be the end of that for the day. Our engineer, Deyan, helped the cook make Schnitzel for lunch, and many agreed it was restaurant quality. Toma made Bagels by hand which we are enjoying this morning.

Shortly after lunch another very large sperm whale was spotted off the port beam. While looking out to Starboard for more sperm whales, a massive fin was observed carving out of the water coming directly toward the ship, a massive white and black head looking right at the ship before diving below.

This happened five times until the massive Orca (Killer Whale) dove below the surface. We were right in between a pod of orca whales and the hunt.

The hunt begins.

As many of us climbed the mast to get a better sight of them, we slowed down our engine and altered course once more. From aloft we saw the massive fin of the male orca whale carve once more nearly two meters out of the water, distinctive scars upon both his fin and face. As we watched, a female and a calf surfaced right next to the male; they were now heading north.

It was at this time that we noticed a large pod of dolphins swimming from east to west. Perhaps thirty in total, they were launching themselves out of the water darting to the left and right, I have never seen dolphins jump like that. As we looked on, with the male orca and the two continuing north on their intercept course for the dolphins, at least two more orca whales surfaced close behind the pod of frantic dolphins.

The trap had been sprung.

The two pods of orca whales closed in and the dolphins made another large sprint to the west to try and get away. It was at this time that the third pod of orca whales surfaced traveling west to east just a hundred yards or so in front of the dolphins. The dolphins broke ranks and darted off in all directions, flying once more out of the water as if they wished for nothing more than to have wings instead of fins.

They can fly however; I grant them that, since after a couple of minutes or so the pod of dolphins had mostly formed up again having escaped the attack from three sides by the orca whales. For the next half hour we continued to watch; Tommaso, Toma and myself laughed aloft as Deyan narrated the events in a very good impression of Sir David Attenborough.

Gradually the whales swam away leaving us once more to the calm seas as far as the eyes can see. The rest of the day was taken up by good food, and high spirits as we marvelled at our spout of good luck to be able to have experienced what we did. This Morning we continue to press on toward Europe; a thick fog rolled in this morning limiting our visibility to a couple hundred yards for much of the time. We continue to wait for the winds return, and for our final turn to the east to begin our way up the English Channel. For now we will enjoy the journey and continue to look out for whales.”

Who said that the last few days after final exams should be restful days where our only focus should be cleaning up and packing up? As we anchored off Scheveningen and prepared for our upcoming grand arrival and family reunions, we decided students were ready for one last event, the Student Takeover. While we cleaned our ship and inventoried the contents of our benches, interested student had to apply formally, and completed an interview with all our officers for their desired maritime position. Positions available: captain, officers, bosun, able seamen/deck hands (AB), shipboard director, cooks, medical officer, and engineers.

I (Marilyn) could tell you how amazingly they did today. Our new leadership team organized our deep clean, motivated the team to keep going to complete all required tasks, and assumed responsibility for the last galley clean up shift of the day when everyone else was exhausted. All of that happened while they sailed us safely into one last harbour before Amsterdam. However, I got Holly, AB for the day, to talk to all the participating students and get their own perception of the day instead! Here you go:

Sebastian: Captain

The best part: Kicking the captain out of the bridge.

The hardest part: Dealing with the unexpected.

Something you learned: You can plan everything ahead, but things always change.

Emma W: 1st Officer

The best part: Being 1st officer

The hardest part: Being 1st officer, running the ship, and planning.

Something you learned: How to be the 1st officer. I learned how to better understand all the different working, procedures, and communication that goes on behind the scenes without the students noticing.

Thomas: 3rd Officer

The best part: Realizing we don’t always need to rely on the maritime crew and can sail the ship ourselves.

The hardest part: Staying focused and keeping things on track.

Something you learned: I learned all the proper procedures. I leaned the real job that the officers do.

Margaux: AB

The best part: During the morning watch, from 5am to 8am, we heaved anchor ourselves, leaving anchorage with sun rising and setting sails all by ourselves.

The hardest part: You have to be confident when making decisions because I’ve realized that I often know the answer but don’t have the confidence to actually make it happen.

Something you learned: Looking back, I realized how much I know and the last day made me realize that my hard work over the last 9 months has paid off.

Shaddai: AB

The best part: Setting all the sails ourselves and realizing that we can do so much and watching a beautiful sunset on 5am to 8am watch.

The hardest part: Getting up early and having to make things happen.

Something you learned: I learned to what extent my knowledge has expanded throughout the nine months on board.

Ben: Engineer

The best part: Working in the engine room.

The hardest part: Having a fire alarm drill.

Something you learned: It’s not all about being an engineer but also knowing your way around the inside of the ship.

Aiga: AB

The best part: Working on deck and having more responsibility. Realizing the knowledge I have.

The hardest part: Delegating tasks and keeping an overview.

Something you learned: I learned to have more confidence in what I know.

Zara: Engineer

The best part of your day: Learning new things and being hands on.

The hardest Part: It was tiring.

Something I learned: We are even more capable than we realize.

Dom: Cook

The best part: Everyone enjoying the food and a long second’s line.

The hardest part: Dinner prep and realizing all the work and the time pressures.

Something you learned: I gained more leadership skills.

Lulu: Shipboard director

The best part: Getting to stand up at Colours and getting the students to do stuff. I had fun with wake-ups.

The hardest part: Organizing the deep clean, delegating, and getting people motivated.

Something you learned: That Cody’s job is super hard. It stressed me out and I only did it for a day. I can’t imagine how Cody did it for 9 months.

Claire: Medical Officer

The best part: Overseeing and floating between different cleaning stations, helping out across the ship, and being supportive.

The hardest part: Having to make your own decisions and not having someone always telling you what you should be doing.

Something you learned: There is a lot of discretion involved with being the medical officer onboard.

Mauricio: 1st Officer

The best part: Being in control of the sailing manoeuvres.

The hardest part: Dealing with the fire alarm.

Something you learned: Steering the ship is like a video game.

Lukas: Bosun

The best part: Being able to put your knowledge to use.

The hardest Part: Nothing was particularly hard, but it was frustrating getting the energy going.

Something you learned: I learned how to better direct and manage a group of people.

Austin: AB

The best part: Harbour furling the headsails after a successful sail with my shipmates.

Hardest Part: How short the sail was, I wish it was longer than one day.

Something you learnt: Hauling on the reef lines can help greatly when getting a sail down.

Holly: AB

The best part: It was fun to actually get to put your knowledge to use, get to use your brain.

The hardest part: Getting people involved and working.

Something you learnt: Putting yourself in the shoes of the crew and understanding the work they do.

It’s actually incredible to think that Class Afloat was able to go to Russia. Many students were looking forward to that port.

Let me explain to you how the customs in Russia were as they looked very Russian. You have to imagine 8 Russian military people who came in the boat in rank. They inspected our visas one after another and we had to wait on the deck in the cold. After looking at our visas, they inspected the boat with a dog. So, it was a very interesting experience.

St.Petersburg is very magnificent. There are very big buildings that are ancient and nice churches with golden ornaments. Some of the students went to visit the Orthodox Church and said that it was so nice and interesting. Some students went around St.Petersburg by bike and had a lot of fun.

For the port program, we went to the Summer Palace and the Hermitage. It is the old palace of the Romanoff family and now it’s an art museum. They say that if you spent 30 seconds looking at every piece of art in the Hermitage, it will take you one month to see them all. And what is nice is that it is right in the centre of the city so the location is incredible.

For my part, I spent a day at the spa, having a nice massage and experiencing the Russian bath. It was a very nice experience. You pass from a sauna to freezing water then to a pool at body temperature. After that, you feel so alive. A very fun part of the Russian spa is that inside the spa you get whipped by branches and you get to wear a Russian traditional sauna hat that you fill with ice. Then after the spa, we went to eat a very nice meal: subway so yummy!!!

I went to the Peterhof palace. He was the first Emperor in Russia and his palace is so big with beautiful gardens full of fountains and magnificent alleys. I think you could spend days there too, to see everything.

I found Russia very interesting, for an old communist regime, I expected it to be more communist than it was. First, there were many fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway and everyone had a phone and the service worked very well.

Russia was one of the cheapest ports I went to, so it was very nice to go in restaurants but not a lot of Russians can speak English. There is a big population of people from Mongolia who came there to work so its very multicultural. You can find restaurants of all kinds.

It was quite cold so if you go there one day, do not forget you warm coat and hat. For my part, I bought a traditional Russian hat made with real fox fur and I can say that it keeps me very warm at night during night watch. I will keep a very good souvenir of Russia.

As we slowly motored out of the port of St. Petersburg, we passed by hundreds of huge housing blocks where hundred of thousands of people lived squished together. Block after block after block, every building looked the same; grey, ugly (personal opinion) and big. It was a huge contrast compared to the super fancy inner city of St. Petersburg where everything was made to look gorgeous and impressive. But because of the high prices in the main city, many inhabitants of St. Petersburg live in those housing blocks built in the time when the USSR still existed.

It was a very important moment for me to see both sides of the super impressive city of St-Petersburg. The city was built to impress other nations of their immense wealth while the actual inhabitants where left outside. We wanted to stay longer to enjoy the culture some more but because Russia was hosting an icebreaker festival, we had to leave.

One of the worlds biggest art collections in the world, located in the inner city of St. Petersburg.
One of the worlds biggest art collections in the world, located in the inner city of St. Petersburg.

As soon as we wanted to set our sails to continue our journey to Estonia, we got news of a big storm with winds up to 70km/h just ahead of us.The crew decided to anchor in the cover of a small island until the storm passed. I remembered the last time, when we were caught in a huge storm, where we didn’t have the luxury of anchoring behind Hog Island, a time were we couldn’t see the horizon because the huge waves blocked our view.

It was the feeling of being truly powerless, the feeling of not being able to do anything, the feeling of being in the hands of nature. It makes me realize where, we as humans, have come from and where we are today, how disconnected from nature we really have become. Nature is not only sunshine and rainbows. No. It also has a destroying part but that is the perfect balance: one has to experience both to really experience nature.

While at anchor, we experienced something magical: snow at sea! It was around 6pm when the watch started to notice little itty bitty snow flakes falling on their noses. The brisk cold combined with the fresh flakes reminded many of Christmas chills that weren’t experienced during the hot Christmas equator crossing. As we all came back from the frosty breezeways, we were welcomed with Frank’s famous seasoned steaks.There were no leftovers. Finally, to wrap up the first day at anchor, most people got to catch up on missed sleep because of anchor watches.

One last sunset in Tallinn before shore leave.
One last sunset in Tallinn before shore leave.

After the storm had passed, 1 day later, we continued our short journey to Estonia. Sadly the winds were not on our side so we had to motor the whole way to Estonia. When we arrived shortly after, we could see the beautiful city Tallinn lightening up the pitch dark night. It was a beautiful view, from the famous TV-tower, where the former citizen fought for their independence, to the newly built skyscrapers that lit up the sky. We were all wanting to go to explore the old medieval city of Tallinn but school had priority so we anchored one last time for a day just in front of the unique city. Before we had shore leave the next day, we could enjoy a beautiful sunset one last time.

Something really cute happened whilst we were in Poland.

Resizedimage600450 Rose Poland Blog 1I will always remember Easter in Poland. We had a ship wide easter egg hunt that morning. Lots of chocolates for everyone, thanks to Joe’s mother. It made us feel a little bit closer to home. Later that day, I had gangway. Now, Gangway in Poland was really wild: we had crowds of people coming up to look at the ship since it was a holiday weekend and people were off. There were many other ships to look at, our home was at the end of the pier. Some people even tried to come aboard. It was intense at times. Usually, Gangway can get pretty boring, but not this time, my buddy and I had people constantly coming up to us asking questions. The best part: the Stanmore speaker was out blaring music from the breezeways. I quickly took over and played my own music for all to hear. The sun was shinning and the weather was warm on a beautiful afternoon. I was barefoot.

Resizedimage600800 Rose Poland Blog 2Some of our students were tossing a football or kicking a soccer ball around on the grass in front of the ship. In High School, I played flag-football for two years, and I haven’t touched a football since. So I picked it up, and some of the girls and I were throwing the football for a few hours. It was great, and they were great too. It was especially great letting out some of that pent up energy from the last few months. We’d been having many long sails until the one to Poland. I don’t think I have done that much exercise since the girl’s basketball game in Senegal. Barefoot in the grass, laughing out of breath because, well, we have no cardio anymore. The music being just right. The smell of the galley wafting up onto the pier. The crowds of happy families. I will always remember that moment.

The next day, as I recall, was the day we went to the Stutthoff concentration camp. This was a port-program that seemed a long time coming. Because this experience was different for all of us, I will refrain from making general comments. The bus ride over was quiet, most of us were sleeping. I know I was reading the Book Club book, one about concentration camps in Poland, Night, Cody’s pick I believe. We kept quiet throughout the introductory videos and the tours, making our way around the camp, to slowly end up back in the bus. No one seemed to be in a rush to be anywhere, for once. The air was heavy. Charged with dialogues we mean to have but rarely do. There really isn’t much more to say, I believe. Once again, however, Class Afloat gave us a first hand experience that equips us for better conversations on the topics of the world. It was a very emotional and educational day. I am glad to have gone through it with this group of people.

In contrast however, I noticed something silly. Our history with bus rides goes back to at least Funchal. The term “Class-A-Coach” was coined in Morocco. I remember how every time someone had to pee, whatever little convenience store was near had a line up going all the way outside, much to the dismay of our tour guides. The same thing happened in Suriname. What can you expect: we love to snack, and it is not all that often that they are so readily available to us. Anyways, as we got on the bus in Poland, our guide happily announced that there would be a rest stop where we can get our snacks. It made me laugh: I suppose our educators learned by now and decided to finally schedule a time in our itinerary solely so we could stock up for the ride back to Gdynia.

While motoring into the city of Copenhagen, we were greeted by one of the largest bridges in the world connecting Malmö, Sweden with Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, not a single cloud in the sky and there was no wind. Even though we were all focusing on studying for the upcoming exams, we tried to enjoy the sun as much as we could. We had mixed feeling about Copenhagen as it was our last port, so everyone wanted to enjoy it in all its colours, however, simultaneously, everyone was stressed out because of the upcoming exams. Cody came up with the brilliant idea of doing our port program in the second oldest amusement park in the world so everyone could enjoy themselves at least for one day.

Hanna & Enric walking back to the Gulden Leeuw through a small but beautiful garden.
Hanna & Enric walking back to the Gulden Leeuw through a small but beautiful garden.

We made fast into the centre of Copenhagen just next to a beautiful little garden. On the other side of the river, we could see a huge and interesting modern structure, the opera house.

Passing by the huge bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark while enjoying the weather.

On the second day in Denmark, it was time for our amazing port program. As we entered the big gates of Tivoli Gardens, we were greeted by a beautiful atmosphere. All of the buildings were made in an antique style. There were huge gardens with thousands of different flowers and plants. The park had many different sections, one was inspired by Arabic architecture, the other by Chinese and European, but they all had one thing in common: they were all beautiful and surrounded with plants. The park would have been worth while just to experience the beauty of the gardens but at the end of the day, we went there for the rides. There was one that brought you up into the skies where one could overlook everything, and since the park was located directly in the city centre, the view was breathtaking.

Peacock chilling in front of an Arabic style building in Tivoli Gardens.
Peacock chilling in front of an Arabic style building in Tivoli Gardens.

There was also this one rollercoaster where one could experience the ride with a virtual reality headset and fight evil along side a traditional Chinese dragon, pretty impressive. And finally, there was the flying planes. You were sitting in a small plane connected to a huge metal arm, which could rotate like a gyroscope, but as if that wasn’t enough, it also accelerated so fast that one experienced more than 5 G’s which means that you get pulled into your seats with a force 5 times grater than our earth’s gravitational field. It was so strong that some of my fellow students couldn’t withstand the pressure and passed out, others just had to throw up afterwards. All in all, it was by far the best port program. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, we all were allowed one free spin at the lottery wheel for a chance of winning a huge chocolate bar. Of course our group won the main prize.

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Our group winning a huge GULD chocolate bar.

On the second last day, we could experience the U.S. COAST GUARD passing by to anchor just ahead of us. The huge and impressive tall ship made our 70 m long ship look like a kid’s toy. As if the beautiful white, blue, red body of the ship wasn’t impressive enough, they put up the biggest USA flag I have ever seen. It was so big, we could have used it as our course sail. On top of that, the ship had red blue and white lights installed to light up the masts during the night, an impressing spectacle.

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U.S. COAST GUARD Flexing with its oversized flag.

On the last day, many people stayed on the boat to study while others continued to explore the city through heavy rain and winds. Most went out for a final diner to celebrate the end of this fantastic year. All the second semester “boys”, including myself, decided to go to a fancy restaurant. After we emptied our bank-accounts in the way of an expensive city, we scraped our last coins together, got a tasty ice cream, and went on an electric scooter ride to experience and enjoy the city one last time in all its beauty. We liked the city so much that we were tempted, really, and I mean, really really tempted, to sneak out in the middle of the night at 2:00am one last time and go for a nice bike ride in the lit up city of Copenhagen, but of course, that would be against the rules, so we decided not to. Copenhagen was a beautiful city and the perfect place for our last port of Class Afloat.

Living on a tall ship while studying is something that many cannot imagine, let alone are able to share as their story for a year. This is something that I am immensely grateful for. I always enjoy port time: eating way too much food, meeting amazing people, and seeing beautiful sights but being at sea is where I prefer to be. No matter how far flung the port is, it is the very next crossing that I crave the most, the open ocean, and the sailing experience.

While at sea, I always feel calm and relaxed and there is always so much to do. I love that I wake up in the morning knowing that all throughout the night, the Watches arose (as did I) and sailed the ship safely, so their fellow crew members could sleep. Watch is one of my favourite parts of ship life. The ship only works with team work and the community that is created to be both supportive and challenging. The sailing is not the main attraction for many of the students who are longing for the amazing port experiences. For me personally, sailing is the reason I am here and it truly is what I love and want to do. The ship is amazing for the way in which it balances this with a great mix of amazing sailing and learning opportunities as well as port programs that create world citizens. Watch is fundamental in the running of the ship but also to the development of community, teamwork and leadership: this is one of the reasons I love to be on watch.

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A beautiful sunset viewed from the bowsprit while repairing the sail. Another Tall Ship can be seen ahead of the ship

On board the ship, we stand one night watch and one day watch in a twenty four hour period. Day watch is a period of the day during which we help on deck, sailing the ship and undertaking maintenance activities. Day watch is always a great way to break up sitting in the classroom studying by getting outside and working hands on. Day watch is always different too as the weather and location is ever changing, along with the work and maintenance that needs to be done. For me, striving for a career in the Tall Ship Sailing Industry, it is something that I always look forward to. I love being on deck with the smiles of the maritime crew and the joy of setting, striking, or trimming sails. Maintenance such as sanding, rust busing, or repairing a damaged sail also provides a challenge and a new learning opportunity. The range of knowledge that we learn on watch is vast and not only do we learn, but we learn from each other and we learn to teach one another too.

Some of my favourite watch memories range from laying on the monkey deck next to my fellow watch members, sanding the gutters, and trimmings; climbing aloft in rough rainy weather while the ship is rolling, furling the square sails; taking helm or lookout enjoying the fun on the bridge or just looking at the crystal clear water and starry skies. I could name all of the amazing things I have done on watch but more than anything, it is the little things that make watch special. An extra good pot of tea made by the watch or just the positive atmosphere and jokes in the bridge. Watch is a time during which our team building and leadership skills are challenged.

For me, growing up on a yacht and then working on tall ships since a very young age, I have had plenty of sailing experience but the distance from my home and the ships at home has allowed me to view things differently. I have realized the importance of every moment and learnt to never take anything for granted. I believe that due to my overall experience and time on watch, I have developed as a young adult and also as a leader. I will never forget my time spent on watch aboard the Gulden Leeuw and I will forever look back on the amazing times and not so amazing times that I have had on watch.

Watch is a special time for me and many others and I find it hard to do it justice in words. I can truly say that I have developed and learn many irreplaceable skills during my time on watch and I have always enjoyed it. Watch will always be a special part of your time on board a ship and the attitude that you bring to watch shapes the experiences that you get back. Living on a ship is not easy but you can make it what you want it to be. You get back what you put into ship life.

On our way to Poland, Class Afloat as a collective was tired, both student and teacher crew. During the first days of the sail, it felt to me as if we’d lost motivation to do work. Looking back, I realize it was a big change from being in London, one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, to being on the ocean, where the only human contact we had was confined to our ship.

Belize Flag Wooden Sign With Beach Background
Belize Flag wooden sign with beach background

Part of it was also because we enjoyed London so much. It was the first time in a long time that we were in a city that big—the biggest city we’ve visited yet—and it was eye-opening. We enjoyed the luxuries of paying with tap everywhere, and having the wifi to contact family and friends. The abrupt change of having those luxuries to boat life was also why the general mood was so low. However, students and crew who loved to sail found that they were ready to be at sea again, because they felt that ports were too hectic. Those optimistic sailors kept the boat running during those first days, even though we were motoring for the most part as the wind was against us.

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girl sitting

Some of us caught bad colds in London, even stomach flues, and were tortured with that for a good portion of the sail. I felt lucky as we sailed away that I was healthy, and felt sympathy for those who were coughing their hearts out. That night, however, my sympathy quickly turned to empathy. I noticed a little nauseous monster trying to intrude on my sleep. I tried to shake it off, but it was still there when I woke up for watch. I was on the verge of puking, but after night snack, the little monster somehow went away. The chocolate cookies must have been really scary. Many Floaties weren’t as lucky as me, for their sicknesses persisted all the way to Poland.

On day three of the sail, we found out we were anchoring for the night. I thought it was because we were going too fast. It was a total surprise to hear that we were going to Kiel the next day! With that, our first surprise port of the semester, the gloom was lifted from the ship, and the mess buzzed with excitement once again. Students scattered to get their work done on time for port, and teachers did the same. Even though we would only be in Kiel for a few hours, it was enough motivation. The excitement of the surprise bonded us, and that day, we felt like a true community.

In Kiel, as we piled off the ship, a familiar bearded face greeted us. It was Sammy! Our former AB from first semester. Running to greet him, the first semester students could barely contain our excitement. Even more so, we were glad to see our favourite bromance, —Sammy and Adrian—reunite.

On day four, as we sailed away from Germany, everything felt normal. It felt like the beginning of the year sails again, when students were excited to start new sails. The normality, however, was disturbed by an announce calling for Nick, our beloved Greenhand. The Captain announced on the loudspeaker in a peculiar tone: “Nick, please report to the bridge, or else bad things will happen.” Many of us didn’t think much of this, because people were called to the bridge all the time. Sometime later, I realised that I could see land again. In fact, we were back in Kiel! Confused, I went outside, and there stood Nick, exactly where we left him.

Floaties ran outside to greet him, laughing harder the closer we got, as we could see the pained embarrassment on his face. Curious spectators of Kiel gathered around on dock to see our majestic home dock. We slowly motored toward shore, and as soon as Nick stepped onboard, we motored out. It was the most cinematic moment of my life. It was hilarious. With that, we knew that it was going to be a good time for the remainder of our sail to Poland. Accompanied by brilliant sunsets and calm winds, it was indeed.

When you’ve been living on the ocean for a little while, you develop a deep connection, a unique bond with your surroundings that allows you to feel utterly connected with nature. It is in the small moments that we understand it. By breathing in the humid and salty air, by being completely soaked when a wave breaks on the hull of our ship, by feeling the wind hugging our faces and going though our hair, by moving with the motion of the swell, by hearing the constant hissing of the flowing water… It is a bond that can hardly be explained but that is worth sharing.

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I remember just yesterday night, I was on lookout and my friend was at the helm. In front of me, the horizon was pitch black and silent. One could not differentiate the water from the sky nor identify the shapes of the waves. But right there, right above our heads, thousands of stars, if I could have counted them all, were hanging very high in the sky. A precious gift from the universe to lighten the night. As I turned my head to my dear friend, he was looking straight in the air with an innocent smile and sparks in his eyes. He was in total admiration of nature. A gift it sure was: pure joy. His expression showed wonder and a thirst for discovery.

Or shall I point out that day of November, when we swam for the first time in the open sea not seeing either shore, or land, or anything but the endless ocean. I vividly remember this moment like it was yesterday. I closed my eyes and laid floating in the salty water for several minutes. The sun was setting and its rays were piercing through the surface, warming up my skin. I felt the comfort of the water surrounding my body and I had the feeling that everything would be okay.

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Another significant moment would be right now, as I am writing. I am writing these words sitting on a bench outside on the deck of our sailing vessel in the middle of the sea, crossing the Atlantic. We’ve been having such rough weather; the horizon is continuously covered with dark patches, the waves building insanely high, the wind blowing with an outstanding force… and this description might not even be enough to express the intensity of the voyage conditions. We are literally breathing in salt water, we are cold and tired but we all got together to sail the ship as best as we could. We organize each other, work together with great rhythm and pay attention to nature’s doings, almost like a dance!

On the night of the starry sky, without knowing it at the time, we truly understood the meaning of the saying: “There is not enough darkness in the whole world to put out of light only one star”. There was also a world that we had yet to discover and we had just realized it.

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Or perhaps that afternoon, swimming in one of the biggest ocean surrounded by amazing people, I understood how unique every moment is, how gorgeous everything has the potential to be if only we would let it be without trying to control it. And right now, I see courage and resilience in the people surrounding me, and in myself. I notice how skillful we have become when needing to face adversity and how communicative we have naturally become. I am amazed with the unique force everyone possesses.

In all of this, I am certain that we would not have grown this rapidly as a community and as individuals if it wasn’t for the environment. This bond with our surroundings is a mean of great realizations. The ocean, seemingly limitless, evokes in us a sense of wonder. When we sail, there are creatures beyond our imagination concealed beneath the waves. The movement of the clouds and the fluctuation of the winds teaches us anticipation and develops our intuition. The rising sun shows us appreciation and patience. Also, not really knowing where we are going wakes in us a sense of fascination for being in the moment. And there lies the very connection between us: nature. We are constantly inspired by its aspects: its force, its balance, its beauty and much more.

Living on the ocean has taught me so much and I see that it has transformed my shipmates as well. And there is so much more to be inspired by… It is sure that I will come back when I’ll have the chance to. But in my time here, on this vessel sailing through the waves, the greatest gift is and will always be this unique connection with nature; a bond that as brought me closer to my environment, and to myself. I’ll forever be thankful for the moments of discovery, the adventure, the lessons, the inspiration, the friendships, and the joy.

So jump in, my friends, and sail away!

On Class Afloat, sails range from three to eighteen days. However, the time you have throughout the sails depict the feeling of the length. There were times when a crossing flew by as fast as a hummingbird’s wings, and then there were times when a five day sail felt like land was never going to approach, and the thought of quayside seemed so foreign. There are many factors that contribute to how a sail affects me emotionally, and physically.

Considering the drastic temperature change that I have recently been thrown into, I like to believe that I have adapted. I am slowly learning the skill of putting on five layers of clothing, and then finally, to complete the masterpiece, putting on my foully weather gear. I never knew it would take such preparation to do something so simple as to go outside. Clothing is only the physical part of the preparation. I must also prepare myself mentally to open the door and accept that there is going to be a gust of freezing cold wind ready to attack me, as it knows how vulnerable I am in my island skin. All pessimism aside, I always feel proud after completing watch, or enduring colours in the morning. It feels as though I have stood up to Mother Nature and her unbearable conditions. I would be lying if I said that something as elementary as weather didn’t affect the length of my sails, because it truly does. However, now that I am acclimatized, it no longer ruins my days.

Another factor that affects my sailing experiences is food. Yes, food affects me in every way, which is ironic since I am such a small eater. When I have many snacks, and Frank puts together a delightful meal, my day goes by like a speed bolt. On the contrary, when my snack bag consists of only air particles, and the boat meals don’t appeal to my appetite, it feels like the day is torturing me slowly. The finest meal in my opinion are tacos, not to mention chocolate chip cookies on night snack on watch.

This leads me into the next phenomenon that affects my sails: night watch. Depending on the weather, how many sails are up, and the motor, we either have full watches or half watches. When we have full watch for more than two days in a row, my body starts to malfunction, and I become mentally and physically unstable throughout the day, and I am not hyperbolizing. In all fairness, at least I am no longer on four to six a.m watch, which impacted my sleep schedule very negatively. I am now on the first night watch, which is always full watch. However, it leaves me the whole night to myself and I do not have to get woken up out of the deepest of all sleeps anymore. I am proud to say that I am finally in a stable place when it comes to my night watch. I am in a good time period, I have adapted to the cold, and Marilyn (my watch dog) comes to the watch more since it’s earlier so that is also a plus.

The final ingredient in my recipe for a good and quick sail is entertainment. Having movies to watch with friends, art projects, board game nights, and other fun activities to do allows the sail to speed up. When I slump all day in my bunk, hoping someone wakes me up for at least dinner, I feel incompetent and depressed. This puts my thoughts in slow motion, hence decreasing my patience for land. I will admit that so far, I can always find someone to talk to or hang out with in the mess and keep me company, so it never gets too bad.

To wrap it up, factors such as temperature, food, night watches and entertainment affect my sails. I anticipate that I am not alone in being affected by these factors. They affect everyone, and we all get through it together as a microcosm. One month left is simply not enough.

With our food stores diminished after 18 days at sea, we passed through the locks and under bridges into London where we left in the masses to explore. We arrived on the 6th of March, gaining an extra day of freedom on the town. That evening was spent eating delicious food and, as always, buying snacks to be eaten immediately.

The 7th was an extra exciting day for the ship, because of the long awaited return of Stephanie who had taken a leave of absence due to a playground accident. Alice, Ingrid and I accompanied Brie to pick her up at the airport. On the Tube ride we decorated welcome home signs with nautical themed drawings to hold up at the airport. After joyful greetings we headed back to the Vessel, Alice and I lugging Steph’s huge sea bag weighing over 50lbs.

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Though all of our stay in London was wonderful, my favorite day was the 10th. This was for a couple reasons but the biggest was seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The day was much warmer and sunnier then it had been so far, which helped put us all in a good mood. We were also very excited about the play. We started out by spending a little more time than usual on our appearance. We all had on some Harry Potter clothing, and I was in my new long wool coat I got from the thrift store (which is the coolest article of clothing I own). We went straight to platform 9 and 3/4 so Julia could get a picture going through the barrier.

The platform was packed with muggles and new witches and wizards going to Hogwarts or buying their supplies for the school year. After watching several muggles attempt to enter the platform, we headed to quench our thirst at Twinnings tea emporium. The smell of the shop was mouthwatering and caused us all great longing for a nice cuppa hot tea. The walls were lined with boxes of tea and tins of biscuits. There were golden mugs and beautifully coloured tins. Directly outside the shop standing like a silent sentinel was the oldest statue in London: the Temple Bar dragon who guards the city gates! At this point we had to hurry to the theatre to pick up our tickets and get a bite to eat before the show started.

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This was another reason it was my favourite day, we got sushi for half price and were able to eat it on the steps while watching the locals go about their business. And then finally it was time! All day my excitement had been growing and now it was overflowing, especially when we arrived at the theatre. Over the door there was a huge sculpture of a boy in a black nest with raven’s wings on it. Inside the theatre the architecture and decorations were very impressive. There were carvings of cherubs and gold plating on all the banisters.

Julia and I were seated in the balcony, and from our seats we had a clear view of the whole stage. Now I was giddy with anticipation for the play to start. And it finally did and for the next 6 hours I was on the edge of my seat. I loved everything about the play! The music is one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard, good enough to rival that of Lord of the Rings. The special effects looked just like real magic and made me feel like I was at Hogwarts in the thick of it all. And of course it wouldn’t be as good without the fabulous actors all of which did an amazing job with their characters. When the play ended I was in raptures of delight which only got bigger when we were able to meet and get signatures from the cast.

London was definitely one of my favourite ports and I can see myself living there for some time later in my life. The ease of travel and the attitude of the locals made me feel welcomed to the city. That with the culture of the arts gave me quite a lot to see and do. I also really like tea and digestive biscuits.

Written by Class Afloat Student Mairead O.

Over the span of these last 8 months at sea, I have come across an observation that I cannot shake anymore; if you aren’t at the right place at the right time – when it comes to sailing, you become somewhat expandable. It is not always the greatest feeling. Here is what I mean by expandable; you feel useless and replaceable.

I put emphasis on the word “feel”, because of course, no one here will actually be replaced, especially if they simply stand idle by. But the reason why this feeling seems to bother me so much (I cannot speak on behalf of all my shipmates, however, after discussing this with some friends, most seemed to agree and relate to my description) is that during “All-Hands” call, sailing manoeuvres aren’t just part of Watch anymore, it becomes a social activity between all of us. Maritime crew, Teacher crew, Student crew: for the most part, everyone shows up. The dynamics are changed: you pull lines with people you don’t usually get to sail with, as we retain the same watch groups. And when all of us are together, that is when I find the silliest stuff and the most fun happens. I love moments when the entire boat seems to be having a good time. There is no better example of teamwork than when it comes to sailing, if you ask me.

The fact remains: not everyone gets to participate. Here is an example. Your watch is sent down to raise a jib. You start flaking the downhaul line, make it off and up the sail goes. When you turn around to help on the halyard, there is absolutely no space for you to jump on. In fact, there are so many people on the line that it isn’t even efficiently going up. There is more than enough hands on the sheets and it most likely doesn’t need a preventer. All that is left to do is to stand idle and watch. You might as well go back up to the Bridge deck or start coiling.

Alright, maybe you aren’t completely useless then, but here is another example. On March 1st, we had an all hands call. At first we thought it was an April fools joke, but it wasn’t. It was our snow day, so I only had flip flops and a blanket on: not the best for sailing. By the time I made it to the bridge deck, people were running with the halyards of the Main, towards the aft of the ship, raising the sail in a surprisingly fast and effective way. It looked like so much fun. But knowing that the bridge was already over capacity, I stayed back. No need for me to be up there. So I went to the foredeck. There were already plenty of students putting on harnesses, but for some reason, I was the third one on the bowsprit. I guess I didn’t want to just stand around again.

Bear with me on this one, as I pretend to know what I am talking about and theorize as to what could explain my dislike of being idle. So, why is it so important to me, or to anyone else really, to be a part of the action, to be one with the team? Perhaps it is this comfortable sense of family, of a pack that we have made for ourselves on board of the Gulden Leeuw. We strive to be a part of a community to avoid the inevitable loneliness that comes with the open ocean and long periods of loss of contacts with our outside worlds. Those worlds become one: life on the boat, and most importantly, the people on it. So yes, when everyone is having fun, it is understandable that we would want to be a part of it, it becomes important.

Following this idea of importance, what if being part of something that matters makes us feel important? Or maybe it is as simple as the team aspect of the all hands call, the air charged full of camaraderie, the excited shouting of “2-6!!” and whatever else some clown on the line can comes up to yell. It’s so much fun when we all work together. I can’t stress that enough.

Sometimes, I think that the things we do are done to be remembered, to feel like we matter. This doesn’t automatically mean we are searching for validation, and I certainly do not want to put everyone in this box, but if you are like me, watching from the sidelines, not being a part of the action, is just something I don’t like. It grinds my teeth. Greenhand Nick told me the other day “You can be a part of this experience or you can watch it happen”, and God forbid I watch this slip away.

The boat was slowly making is way in the river, getting closer every minute to the mythical city of London. The dry cold of the English Channel and cloudy weather of the United Kingdom made us even more eager to arrive to destination. Different docks and even bridges opened up for us. We finally docked inside London. What could have been better?

Having five days to visit a place filled with art, culture, history and good food by ourselves was making everybody incredibly happy. It is so cool to be able to travel with your friends, especially in a place with so many options and opportunities opened to us. We can go out to the movies, Harry Potter fans can watch the famous play The Cursed Child, or we can simply roam around in the street where the great people of this world walked.

The streets were crowded with thousands of people from all over the world; politicians, workers, students, and tourists. I could hear many different languages like German, French, Mandarin, and Polish. This great diversity, characteristic of London, pleased us especially because of the amazing food. In Chinatown, I enjoyed a good dish of fried noodles. I did not dislike the fact that London is known for having the best Indian Food in the world either. Moreover, I drank as much coffee as I could. I really missed good coffee on the boat and the smell of fresh coffee is my favourite smell in the world.

While visiting the British Museum, I got amazed thinking of all the history behind each artefact. I saw Egyptian statues that were built thousands of years ago by great Pharaohs and a three meters long painting filled with meticulous details. I continued walking and saw hundreds of art pieces, statues, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and watercolours. The best part in all of this was that it represented only a small portion of London’s art collection. I could still spend days in that museum, and admire and understand new things. Just a corner away from the British Museum, I entered a small art gallery founded in the late 1930’s. This old apartment building was filled with bright light and diverse art styles such as impressionist paintings and watercolours. There was one particular art piece that stood out to me. This painting portrayed a grey, stormy sea with a small sail boat heeling dangerously. Because of this year of sailing and going through all these storms and hard weather, I could not only see the painting, I could feel it.

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A Flourishing Tree.

I also visited the famous Camden market. It is an old stable turned into a huge market filled with cafes, food trucks, thrift shops, and bookstores. Basically, everything I like reunited in one place. I lost myself in the small alleys, meeting friendly store owners. I even discovered a small tea shop hidden in the back of a cute second-hand bookstore. The small room was filled with colourful vintage sofas, old paintings and pictures, and ancient wooden tables. I was served a scone with the traditional cream and jam with a cup of English tea in an old porcelain tea cup. In addition, during that day, the sun had decided to finally come out! A sunny day in London just for us! We laid down lazily in parks around London. The flowers were starting to come out. Just lying on the solid ground after weeks at sea was a treat in itself.

I think that what I liked the most of this city is that you don’t even have to enter a museum to learn. While wandering around in the city, I admired the 16th century architecture of a beautiful cathedral and an apartment building built during the art deco movement. Then, I saw a huge ultra-modern skyscraper. A few buildings away there was an old distinguish tea shop. With a bunch of friends, we walked along side of the Canal admiring both sides. I remember all the movies and TV shows like Harry Potter or Love Actually that took place in London. I remember how envious I was to walk in this beautiful city.

I did, as a good tourist, go see the Buckingham Palace to give my respect to the Queen. I admired the famous guards with their funny hats walking back and forth endlessly. It seemed really strange from my perspective. They just spend all day seeing thousands and thousands of tourists taking pictures of them all day long, fascinated.

To London, I am not saying good-bye but see you later. We shall meet again.

On September 4th, when students came to the wharf in Amsterdam and they could finally have their first glimpse at the tall ship they would be living on for the upcoming months, the three tall masts took the breath away from the future Floaties. When will the moment come for them to finally reach the top gallant, 40 meters above the deck? For some of us more adventurous students, this thrill was a story of the past only few days after the official departure; for others, the challenge is still alive today.

Above all, reaching the summit is a special moment for anyone having the nerves to climb all the way up. For me, after few attempts to the course, then to the lower top sail – just half way to the top gallant – I strived for the peak of the Gulden Leeuw on a sunny day of the first Atlantic crossing.

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One of the students making their way up to the platform. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know from this point of view if happiness or fear – or a right mix of both – can be seen on this person’s face climbing up to the sky.

When I woke up on December 12th, I knew that day would be a great day. Maybe it had something to do with the cheerful music the galley team had put for regular wake-up, the full night of rest I had just had, the AC in the dorms finally working against the humidity of the equator, or a sudden change in this atmospheric pressure, who knows. Only, my pinky was telling me that it would be a formidable day on the ocean. Just when I was heading for my breakfast, I heard the rumour from the watch: we would see the Brazilian land today; the Atlantic crossing had come to an end. On that positive note, I went to watch as the sun was already hot, and the breeze was comfortable, the swell was in a rhythmic dance with the hull of our boat, and the ocean was bluer than ever.

On the bridge, Shaila was waiting for us with a list full of projects for the day. First things first, we had to prepare our arrival in Fernando by furling all of the square sails, beginning with the top gallant. It was my chance: today was the day I would accomplish this challenge I had been dealing with since Amsterdam. Before Shaila could even finish her sentence, I was putting my harness on, ready to go aloft. I jumped on the occasion and, with Samantha, we hopped on the foremast’s ladder, beginning to climb to reach the summit.

I was confident; in general, I am not scared of heights. I am simply uncomfortable. However, I knew I could depend on this ladder as much as I could on an old friend. It is steady, wide enough, and I knew I could rely on these three stays running from the deck to the course platform. Even though I was not the fastest to climb up, I still reached this mid-way point easily. Yet, the hardest part was still coming up. The next ladder leading directly to the top gallant is not as friendly. It is made of rope that seems to be there since the ship was built, has some random wood steps – probably where the line tore –is way less steady, and you can barely fit both your feet reaching the top of it. This wobbly ladder was dancing and twisting from left to right as the boat was fighting the waves. My heart started beating harder into my chest, my hands were holding on so tight that my nails were printed into my skin, and my fear reached the summit way before I did.

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The distinct silhouette of Fernando taken from our boat at anchor. Fernando’s beauty and serenity were welcomed after a long Atlantic crossing where we had reached the summit of ourselves.

Step after step, I was holding in tears and sticking to the little energy, courage, and confidence I had left to climb those last meters. I would not go down after all the progress I had made, not today. I finally reached the summit, not only after an extensive and exhausting ascension, but after a 4-month trip sailing the oceans of the world under these yards. Of course, I clipped in as soon as I got to the yard. After a few deep breaths and a glimpse at the view from the highest point of the ship, I started furling the sail with Samantha. During an hour, we prepared the top-gallant for our arrival in port. Just before heading down, which seemed as scary – if not more – than going up, we saw a blue silhouette lying on the horizon: Fernando! The feeling of seeing land after a fifteen-day sail crossing the ocean is indescribable. We were cheerful; There was no doubt we were the first ones to see land.

When I finally stepped onto deck, covered in bruises, trembling, out of breath, dizzy, and more tired than I have ever been, my heart was filled with pride. I remember that I could not stop smiling, that feeling inside me was delightful. As we were doing the handover at the end of my watch, a few dolphins appeared on port side. They were jumping, dancing, and swimming in the water, a little bit like my mind in happiness. My eyes were wet once again, but this time they were filled with gaiety and bliss; I knew this day would be exceptional.

The first thing most people think of when I tell them I’m sailing around the world on a tall ship is “Oh what a great adventure” or “you’re so brave to be doing this without knowing anyone beforehand”. Yes, this is all true, but no one really thinks about the bond or community that the whole crew shares; nobody would understand this except for the people who have been in the same situation.

When we are sailing in the middle of the Atlantic on the Gulden Leeuw, we are together 24/7, and it’s hard to have a time when you are by yourself. I started to become really close with some of the people on board. Everyone sleeps in really tight quarters; the aisles between the bunks are around two or two and half feet apart. This makes us get to know each other really well.

When we go to port though, it’s different. In port we go off in groups of four. I went out with Alice, Anastasia, Mairead, and Julia exploring the city of Horta, Failal. The first day in port I went to the beach; the sand and water was cold, but refreshing. The breeze smelled of salty ocean water. The sea was a light marine blue. I only got to experience this with three other people instead of fifty-nine other people. Once I got back to the ship it was like coming home; everyone shared what they did that day and suggests where to go and what to do.

After being in port for three days, I went hiking with a group doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award. The Duke of Edinburgh is an award that anyone can receive. This award is mostly worked on in the Commonwealth countries. One of the parts you need to do to receive the award is to plan and do an adventurous journey. My journey was hiking Mount Pico and camping on the island of Pico. I was really slow because the terrain was really steep and had a lot of loose rock. The air was cool, fresh, and clean. The reason why it was so steep was because we were climbing up a mountain called Mount Pico, which is the tallest mountain in Portugal and an inactive volcano.

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This is the view above the clouds from on top of the mountain. In the distance is the city of Horta below the clouds across the water. It was bright and sunny up high.

The rocks on Pico were really rough and a dark greyish black. I was sweating so much because of the heavy bag I had on my back. The bag also slowed me down a lot. As we hiked up the mountain, we passed through a cloud, which got me a little damp. Everyone in our group had to break into smaller groups. I was in the last and slowest group. It was okay because I got to hang out with Emma and Lloyd, one of the teachers on board. Not only did I get to know Emma better as well, but she really encouraged me to climb higher and do more. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the summit but I felt a strong sense of friendship, understanding, and motivation.

After our Duke of Edinburgh camping trip; I went off with some friends and went around town one last time before leaving; walking into stores and spending most of our time in Peter’s Café. On the way back to the ship, the kids on the German ship offered us a tour of their ship. The German ship was also a sail training vessel for kids in grade 11 and they were in port at the same time as us. I find that there is a community not only within our own ship community, but also within the sailing community.

I was so amazed at how similarly the Gulden Leeuw and the Thor Heyerdral are run. It was also really different in a way. The German students have classes every other day and we have classes every day. A lot of the Class Afloat students connected with the other students on the German Class. Anastasia and I connected with the students on the “Thor Heyerdral” because we are doing some of the same things they are doing and we understand what they’re going through and the vocabulary they use to describe their ship. Thor Heyerdral is entirely made out of wood. This is what I’ll remember the most. I feel a real sense of community and family here; this is something that will always be irreplaceable to me.

Featured image: These are the friends I went hiking with on top of Mount Pico for the Duke of Edinburgh hike; This is near the summit. From left to right (Aiga, Alice, Ingrid, Myriam and in the middle at the bottom is Faren)

As we left the beautiful islands of the Azores, we entered our second and last long sail of the year. We left behind us a picturesque painted dock filled with traces of Class Afloat’s early years and ours. With the help of many student and staff, Hanna, a very talented artist, designed and painted our Class Afloat mural.

Our design, which blended in with the sea of other murals on the quay, is a symbol of our stay in the Azores. Then, as we left the dock, we got a grand goodbye from the surrounding training sailing vessels and tall ships of Horta. They honked and yelled goodbye as we sailed away into the sunset. One of them was a sail training vessel from Germany called Thor Heyerdahl. Many of the students got to meet them either by visiting their ship or when they visited ours.

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A picture while we were hoisting the sails on the snow day. The square sails are all set except for the course.

Plastic consumption is an important part of our day to day life on Class Afloat as we are living on the ocean. Every other day, we find plastic floating in the ocean and it’s simply a reminder of the harsh reality that our plastic consumption is outrageous. It is no surprise that the students of the Ocean 11 class started a campaign to reduce those tendencies. On the boat, we only have a compost bin and a garbage bin. They wanted to create 4 different bins for our next sail: paper, plastic, garbage and a recycling bin. The students also created a small bin next to the coffee machine and the boiling water machine to recycle coffee filters and tea bags because normally students would throw them into the compost bin. I personally think we should keep these ideas for the next years of Class Afloat and reduce all our plastic consumptions, because most of it ends up in the ocean anyway, and for us, the ocean is our home.

This sail we also had our last snow day ever! The students had a later Colours and had the time to relax in the morning. Some watched movies, while others finished their homework. For lunch, our cooks and staff made us tacos, which is one of the favourite meals prepared on board. After lunch, we had an All Hands calls but students didn’t know if it was an April’s fool joke or if there really was an All Hands. In the end, there was an all hands call, to put all the sails up because we had just hit big winds. The students were excited not to be motoring anymore and to be sailing again. While setting the sails, we invented a new way to haul the sails up, running. We would take the rope and together, we run the opposite way. Interestingly enough, this technique seemed more effective than conventional hauling. It was quite funny seeing everyone running and screaming while raising a sail up; a good memory to remember.

As we get into our last two months of the experience, more and more of the students are starting to realize that the end is near. Some of us will never see the boat or the people on it ever again, and this creates a form of nostalgia. For me, it is completely different: I have given so much to this program and all the opportunities that Class Afloat has given me have made me a better person. This may sound cheesy from the outside, but Class Afloat has taught me to be honest and to give everyone a chance for friendship; even by writing this I am tearing up. For some of us, it is our graduating year and every moment is important to us. We have to take in everything we can before the end, not only of Class Afloat, but of our high school years.

Just as most people do chores at home, Class Afloat is no exception. Here on the boat there never ceases to be a shortage of cleaning that needs to get done. But just because there’s an endless supply of dirty undies and deck scrubbing doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

A typical morning on the Gulden Leeuw starts with a good morning wakeup of questionable music, courtesy of the six to nine watch. After quite literally rolling out of bed, everyone heads up to morning muster, known as Colours. Once things like salsa Saturday and other upcoming actives are announced, the Watches break off to do Happy Hour, also known as cleaning stations. There are six main stations that get cleaned every morning: bridge deck, main deck, foreword heads (bathrooms), aft heads, dorms and the mess which is our common area. Currently my watch, watch four, is cleaning the mess. We chose to divide the tasks by day and rotate through the normal week schedule.

Tasks, such as sweeping the hardwood floor, wiping surfaces like tables and benches, cleaning the coffee and tea pots, organizing the fridge/saving the fridge from leftover stinky, slimy Horta port cheese and scrubbing the slippery stairs are just a few of the jobs that need to be done in the mess.

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Morning happy hour of the main deck, Mauricio hard at work getting every last speck of dirt from the metal deck.

There are many unique ways to make happy hour amusing and creative. One example would be while cleaning the main or bridge deck, to have light-saber battle with the scrubbing brooms. Sadly, we have lost many brooms to the great light saber battles. Another great example would be to have an impromptu flash mob/dance battle while blasting music in the mess (because that’s where George’s big speaker is). An alternative to crazy dance battles would be to have a karaoke party while cleaning. Finally, one of my favourite ways to improve cleaning is to do poorly choreographed dance routines to songs like the Macarena or Cotton-Eyed Joe while cleaning counters.

Throughout the day, we clean dishes, if in galley, make sure laundry gets pushed through, ship’s laundry before crews always, and make sure to keep our beloved ship overall clean and tidy. On the days that we have a harsh heal it gets more difficult to clean. For example, when serving lunch that just so happens to be soup, when healing at a 15-degree angle, it gets chaotic. As you can imagine the soup ends up more in our hair and on the walls, than in our mouths. There is an extra cleaning task that comes with stormy days, yes, puke parties! Whether being the one puking or an unfortunate bystander, everyone gets to take part in supporting one another during these eventful days.

The aftermath of a strong heal leaning starboard-side. Gravity tends to hate the fridge door. Many lives of jam jars and applesauce were lost to the roughness of the unforgiving rouge waves. Captain wasn’t too happy about the sea stowing job on this one.

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Picture of the delicious Horta cheese before it all melted away. Luckily, we managed to get in some cheesy photos before the disaster. Most if them turned out pretty gouda.

This last sail and the biggest cleaning trial was the battle of the cheesy broken-down fridge. Unfortunately, during the sail from Horta to London, one night the most aft fridge stopped working. Nobody noticed that it had broken. The fridge was filled from top to bottom with the inexpensive, delicious and fresh Portuguese cheese. Slowly as the night watches went by, the unpasteurized cheese inside started to rot and collapse into piles of sweaty, dirty sock smelling, puddle-like, lumps of slime. In the morning, Watch Four were the poor souls who got the burden of cleaning the mess, which included throwing out leftovers and tidying the fridge. As they opened the fridge expecting last nights pulled pork and previous dinner leftovers, they were welcomed with a cheesy nightmare.

Picture of the delicious Horta cheese before it all melted away. Luckily, we managed to get in some cheesy photos before the disaster. Most if them turned out pretty gouda.

After all this time and only a bit over a month left to go, we’ve all gotten pretty good at keeping it neat. Even though cleaning our beloved boat is a mandatory daily job that at times can be tough, the satisfaction of having a clean and tidy home never ceases to put a smile on everyone’s faces.

We successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the second time and arrived in London! We arrived two days early at Canary Wharf, so we had one school day with an evening of shore leave and a full day of shore leave extra. All of the students were very excited to have one more day of shore leave to explore the city.

On our first day, many took the tube, the underground, to the center of London. With my specific group, we walked around Westminster, and saw Big Ben and the eye of London. Then we found ourselves in Greenpark next to the Buckingham Palace. We arrived just in time to see the changing of guards, which was very impressive. The ceremony started with the King’s Guard’s Orchestra leading the way across the Royal Mall road to St. James Palace. They were then followed by Kings’ Guards on horses, on bicycle, and on foot while holding machine guns in their hands.

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Picture of the gates of Buckingham palace on the first day of the port. You can see the detailed put into the Lion and the Unicorn on the symbol itself.

Picture of the gates of Buckingham palace on the first day of the port. You can see the detailed put into the Lion and the Unicorn on the symbol itself.

The guards were dressed in a red uniform and fluffy hats, while the officers wore fancier uniforms with pins, broches, and patches all over them. As they marched on, the crowd was getting bigger and bigger and the guards were now being watched by hundreds of people. When they arrived, the King’s Guards holding the machine guns changed places with the other ones. The music of the trumpets and drums were loud, as was the crowd, as they finished the ceremony. When the song ended, the people became silent as the guards went into the building and the crowd began to return to their normal Sunday afternoon.

The next day was our port program, which was a scavenger hunt around the city. All the students divided themselves into 16 different groups. Every single group had a list of 80 places, things or actions to do in the city. So, our shipboard director gave us an unlimited Oyster card (giving us access to all forms of public transportation) for the day and a curfew for the hunt, and we were off. With my team, we first went to Mayfair where we found the number 1 phone box and the Piccadilly Royal Academy. We then continued walking around and saw a street dancer and because one of our tasks was to interact with street entertainers, we started dancing with him. People kept stopping and watching us having fun and not caring about what everyone else was thinking. After 3 minutes of dancing with the guy, we had accumulated a big crowd of people that were joining in, and it became a big party, the highlight of my day.

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The statue in the middle of Trafalgar Square in front of the National Portrait Museum. You can also see on the side the view of a double red bus, typical of London.

The statue in the middle of Trafalgar Square in front of the National Portrait Museum. You can also see on the side the view of a double red bus, typical of London.

Afterwards, we went to Covent Market where we walked through stands filled with the most random things such as jewellery to food, forks to postcards, and knives to wooden boxes. As our last stop, we went to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Museum. We then left the square to go to the eye of London for the end of our scavenger hunt, where one of our first semester student, Thomas Steip was waiting for us. We met up with some of the other students and went out with him to Chinatown, bought some fortune cookies, and ate them all in a typical red double bus. A great day for the books.

On our other port program day, we volunteered at the Canal and River Trust Organisation whose goal it is to maintain the dock and also the environment of the whole area of Canary Wharf. We helped them rust bust, paint old fences, and sand bollards off the dock area.

This port was important for some of the students because their family members were there. Alumni students came to visit the boat and we had an open house. People saw many shows including The Cursed Child, Mamma Mia, Women in Black, Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera, and even Drake! Also because of those shows, we had a curfew of 12 AM, which many of the student crew enjoyed because we wouldn’t have to worry about being late or missing anything that was at night.

Hamilton, Bermuda was the port people were looking forward to most this second semester. Everyone was so excited to see his or her parents after sailing for one month. After ten days of sailing from Havana, we were finally entering Hamilton. Every single student had a position to make the entrance more exciting. As we entered, you could see the large group of parents waving and screaming at their children.

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For the entrance there were maximum two people in each side of the square sail. They needed to line up with the person that was on top for it to look organized. Everyone was in their Class Afloat uniform ready to receive his or her parents.

When we finally docked, students got off the boat to greet their parents. Megan talked to all of us for about ten minutes before letting us go out as a family to explore Hamilton. For the evening, Class Afloat reserved a soccer field for our parents and us to play for ninety minutes. Parents had fun with their children and it was a great way to get to know the others. Also, at the port presentation before arriving to Bermuda, they recommended that we go to the beaches. The main reason they told us to go to the beaches is because there, you can find pink sand and sea glass beaches! Not in many places you can find this types of beaches.

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“Horseshoe Bay” is one of the most recognized beaches in Bermuda since it is the third most instagrammed beach in the whole world! The beautiful view of the ocean with clear sand and big rocks was more enjoyable with less people around.

This is Gibb’s Lighthouse, about twenty minutes away from Hamilton. The location of the lighthouse is perfect to see Bermuda from a highpoint.

Since we were with our parents, transportation was much easier. A plan many of the families had was to go to “Dockyard”. It was a thirty-minute ride and on the way there were many places you could stop by such as lighthouses, beaches, secret beaches, and view points. The ride there was really nice, the road was right by the ocean you could see many different boats and all the houses were painted in pastel colors.

Just before getting to Dockyard there was this small beach. Surrounded by trees and rocks, a perfect place to relax.

Dockyard is a place for most of the boats in Bermuda. Around, you can find many good restaurants. One thing about Bermuda is that they eat a lot of fish; each day they had “the fish of the day”. The day I went there the fish of the day was Rockfish. I ordered in a restaurant that had the form of a boat and it came with beans on the side; it was really tasty. At Dockyard you could also find a marine place were you went to see the dolphins behind a glass. Lastly, they were a couple of museums around but the one I found more interesting was a museum full of forms of transportation from the past. You had to pay five dollars to enter, if you are interested in that kind of stuff, it is worth it!

This is the mall located in the middle of Dockyard called “Clock Tower Mall”. Inside they were many locals that sell souvenirs, ice cream and other goods. It’s bigger than it looks!

Everything closed really early so as we got back to Hamilton exhausted, we enjoyed once more the beautiful view. The day was almost over and it was time to say good night to our parents and go have a good sleep to be ready to explore more tomorrow.

After a 14 day sail and 2 days of anchor, the small community of our magnificent vessel was impatient to discover the Azores. Many of the students went to the grocery store to replenish their empty snack bag. The nights on board are getting cooler, so I bought a cozy blanket. The second evening, I packed provisions for the expedition planned the next day. I woke up early and after a good breakfast with a glass of fresh creamy milk from a farm nearby, our group of 14 trainees made our way to the ferry.

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After a three hours hike, a group of students from Class Afloat made it to the top of the 2351 meter high volcano.

We arrived thirty minutes later to the lovely island of Pico. We discovered the gorgeous landscape of the island as the taxi took us to the bottom of the highest mountain of Portugal, Mount Pico. I felt like if I was transported in the British grassland with the contrast of the bright green lawn and cloudy grey sky. Some small walls made of volcanic rocks divided the lands into equal sections. We could see the shapes of the countless cows in the horizon. In fact, the island hosts three times more cows than the number of habitants. We started the hike determined to accomplish our goal of reaching the top of the volcano. As we climbed, the temperature got warmer and when we passed the clouds, the sun started to burn our delicate skin. Unfortunately, nobody had sunscreen and we all ended up with tomato red faces. At twelve, we made it to the top and were rewarded by a delicious meal and a breathtaking view. There was even some snow at the top of the active volcano and we made a snowman. We came down and got steaming cups of hot chocolate in a small cafe near the ferry.

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Some friends and I posing with the adorable baby cows and the pieces of cheese we bought.

The fourth day, we started our day with provisions. We met the new cook’s mate, Carrie, and organized all the fresh food for the next sail. We finished for lunch and Cody ordered pizza with a thick layer of melted cheese. After everyone was allowed to go, I made my way to one of the five cheese factories on the island with Julia, Mairead, and Felicity. We had the chance to taste many samples of the dairy product. That cheese was the tastiest I’ve ever had. I was pleased to be informed that the island would soon start exporting their products to Canada. We were able to look around the factory and ended with the best part: the baby cows. We all fell for those adorable three-weeks-old babies. Some of them were playing around and others were sleeping in the grass. We took some pictures with our new friends and Julia even had the chance to pet one. The view from the cheese factory was beautiful. We could see the ocean and even Mount Pico that we had climbed the day before.

After our photo-shoot with the cows, we decided to stop at Peter Sports Cafe, a restaurant near the port where most of the sailors go for a drink or to eat a good dinner. We took a table and ordered a nice meal. The place had a cozy ambience and some good music. It was decorated with flags and stickers from countries of every continent. I ordered shrimp with creamy pasta and garlic bread. After a long time at sea, it’s always pleasant to get some good food with friends. For dessert we had a great variety of choices like chocolate cake, apple pie, Pastel de nata, and many more.

We then went to the shop of the restaurant and got a nice shirt like the majority of the Gulden Leeuw trainees. Finally, I stopped at the best ice cream place called Gelados do Atlántico Açores that was sadly closed the first three days of our stay. There, I ordered a waffle with decadent ice cream.

After 18 days of school at sea, the students and crew needed a break. The patience of everybody was getting short and our full night watches were catching up to our tiredness. This sail was not our best one, but at least we tried to make the most out of it.

It all started in Bermuda, approximately 1700 nautical miles away from our destination: the Azores. The parent port did us some good and gave us the opportunity to gain our energy back from the previous sail and to start this one on the right foot. The 59 students and 17 crew members were ready to raise sails and leave the harbour of Hamilton. After the last goodbyes to our family, the Gulden Leuuw was back on track and the students quickly came back to their old habits. The Atlantic Ocean didn’t leave us the privilege of doing half watches and due to rough seas, the rocking boat had to use every idle hand it could get. The waves were invading the breezeways and even reaching the very top of the bowsprit. Although they got to a maximum of eight meters, the Gulden Leuuw attained a top speed of twelve knots! For a training vessel that weighs more than four hundred and eighty-seven tons and is sailed by a bunch of teenagers, I would say that that is pretty impressive.

Half way through our sail, the sailing conditions just kept on getting worse and worse until a sudden wind change made the boat unexpectedly jibe. A few seconds later, a huge noise thundered threw the entire boat. I ran out of my bed to see what was going on. I soon saw that the main stay sail and one of the jibs were completely ripped. The captain came running up in the bridge and with his confidence, he first made sure that everybody was safe and sound. Then, he quickly analyzed the situation and turned on the engine so that everything could run smoothly again. We took down the two injured sails and sent them immediately to Jesse, our best sail’s repairman. Unfortunately, with the limited resources on board, we were unable to repair the damage done to the outer jib and the main stay sail. However, Jesse thought of a genius idea and proposed to set our spare storm jibe where the main stay sail previously lived. With only a few hands and couple of hours later, a new sail replaced our main stay sail and made us gain a couple of knots again. This made it another great day for the Gulden Leuuw and I could finally say that it felt good to be back at sea. The ocean state had become calmer, the winds were smoother and most importantly, the students and crew gained their strength back.

As a reward for our hard work, we had a day off after 12 days of school and full night watches. My tiredness had caught up to me and gave me no choice but to sleep during my full day off. Even if everybody had a day off, the boat continued to sail which forced some idle hands to help during squalls.

Then, a full week later, the look-out spotted land for the first time in eighteen days. It was at that moment that I reached my peak of excitement. The only thing I could think about was to go on shore and finally touch land again. I was craving a good pizza with a cold soda and a good mango gelato as a dessert. As I stepped off the boat, I first got what I was craving to satisfied my stomach. Then on the next day, a couple of friends and I went on another island to climb mount Pico which is the highest point in Portugal.

This volcano reaches a height of 2300 meters and even with my laziness, I successfully climbed the mountain in a couple of hours. It might sound really easy, but in reality, when we reached the top, my legs were killing me. The volcanic rocks were warming us up while a few meters away from me, a bit of snow laid on the ground. The sky over the clouds was a clear blue and it was the first time in my life that I could admire the nature without getting disturbed by anyone. Overall, even if the hike remained extremely difficult, the view certainly paid off and made it all worth it. The Azores did us some good by relaxing everybody and letting us start our next crossing on the right foot once again.

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Our new crew member and classmate, Cor, at helm for the first time. We were passing through a huge patch of sargassum seaweed, where we often catch large fish.

Excitement for Season 2 of Class Afloat was shown with cheek-to-cheek smiles and many hugs, as if it had been months since we had seen each other. Everybody seemed refreshed from their time spent at home and ready to live countless more amazing experiences together.

(I write this as we sail swiftly towards Dominica, shamefully finger-scooping peanut butter into my mouth as we do here on the Gulden Leeuw.)

The Gulden Leeuw didn’t change while we were gone (although it did seem considerably cleaner). One change however was the lack of many students from semester 1 and the addition of new students and crew to our community. This considerably shifted the dynamic. We all miss those who have left us and it’s definitely not the same without them. Surely we will see them again soon. While it was strange at first to have new crew members and students living with us, soon enough the newcomers became more comfortable and we’re quickly learning that each and every one of them is bringing something great to our seafaring community. I’m impressed about how much they’ve learned already in so little time. They bravely climbed aloft, enjoying their first birds-eyed view of their new welcoming home and participated actively in our departure sail setting.

New watches are even stranger than I had imagined. I couldn’t be happier with both my day and night watches, yet Watch 6 was my family within a family for 4 months. Lulu commented that although everyone in watch 2 (my new watch) are all friends, it feels awkward because we have never been in a watch situation together before. Nonetheless, I’m sure we’ll get used to it in no time.

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Marilyn struggling to open the curtain as she kindly brings our banana peels to the food waste bin.

I can’t wait for my new classes. Teachers came prepared and enthused about the curriculum they will be teaching us. Actually, maybe “teaching us” isn’t the right term. I prefer saying that they’re guiding our learning. Siobhàn once said, “We are all teachers and we are all students.” On Class Afloat, the teacher-student dynamic is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Teachers will spend time with us joking around and talking. After all, they have to be pretty cool people to come on Class Afloat. Sorry, I digress. All in all, my classes are interesting and I’m excited!

I was surprised in the most amazing way on departure day. Our old Second Officer, Adriaan, was on a tall ship anchored beside us called The Tres Hombres. On watch, we noticed a beautiful, elegant, bearded man tendering towards our ship. It was none other than Adriaan himself. We were all incredibly happy to see him again and are looking forward to when he will be joining us again in Bermuda. As if that wasn’t enough, Hanna’s parent’s catamaran motored by with Sophie and Colin, our departing greenhand and cook’s mate standing proudly on the deck! We’re so lucky for our amazing crew this year. We’ll miss Sophie’s contagious laugh and Colin’s lack of t-shirts. It was great to see them again. Soon enough, the Gulden Leeuw raised anchor, caught steady winds in our sails and set off towards Dominica.

At 17:20, after a long day of anticipation, we put our school books away, prepared our sunscreen and overpacked our backpacks with clothes; we could feel the weekend atmosphere everywhere on the boat. Even the Captain couldn’t wait to set foot on land as we were able to hear the horns, the Latin music, and the crowded streets of Havana all the way from our anchorage. The unique Cuban vibe was already present on the Gulden Leeuw among its crew members.

La Havana Harbour
The Gulden Leeuw leaving La Havana’s harbour as the sun is setting after this wonderful Cuban port. Students are thinking about the amazing memories they just created and the breathtaking things they have seen.

As soon as we left the harbour, we were all impressed by the flamboyant and extravagant city centre. The rumours weren’t lying, Havana was congested with bright-coloured American 50s cars waiting at every street corner. Some drivers were waving their hands, some were wearing traditional hats, and some were playing loud Cuban music. Pink, purple, green, blue, it was up to you to choose the colour of your taxi. I felt like I was in a Hollywood movie scene when a famous actor enters a city for the first time. Havana seemed to celebrate our arrival by showing its best side with loud music, traditional dancing, a welcoming community, and a vibrant culture. At first, Havana seemed overwhelming with its thousand things to do, to eat, and to see, but we soon joined the relaxed Cuban vibe.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at the restaurant where we all shared lunch. Starving – as always – students were more than happy to eat rice, chicken, and beans; a meal which there is no shortage of aboard the Gulden Leeuw. Nonetheless, Cuba knew how to make it special. A distinct spice, a local way to cook it, and a secret ingredient, nobody could tell, but everyone was well pleased with their first Cuban meal. The warm-hearted host wouldn’t stop putting rice on your plate unless you told her to stop. Don’t get distracted, she would keep adding spoonfuls of rice until rice was touching the ceiling!

After the well-appreciated overload of food, we walked to the beautiful and vintage Old Havana. It seems like the more colourful your house is, the nicer it is considered. Indeed, neighbourhoods were painted with hot pink or bright yellow. We were impressed by the extravagant architecture and the historical buildings. Cubans commemorate their historical revolution through their buildings, art, statues, and parks. Today, we can understand better what they have been through by a simple walk through Revolution Square or by visiting the famous Revolution Museum.

Luckily enough, it was “El Día del Amor”, Valentine’s Day, in the animated streets of La Havana. Cubans surprised me once again; they don’t have the same vision of this day as me. The peaceful, romantic dinner with some flowers and a sunset is too banal and too cliché; they prefer to take their girl/boyfriend down the streets and dance until their bodies tells them to stop. They take this day as an opportunity to celebrate and to party; the romantic dinner can wait. A few streets away from our accommodation, we spent the little energy we had leftover from dancing with locals and we put it to use by tasting traditional chocolate Cuban deserts and by enjoying the cheerful and festive vibe of Cuba. This unusual and atypical Valentine’s day will surely stay in our minds for the rest of our lives.

The next morning, right as we entered the streets of Cuba, a shiny orange car was parked just on the other side. For those who had forgotten that we were in Cuba, the car’s 1950s appearance was a good reminder. Later we learned that in 1959 until 1994, the importation of cars from the United States was prohibited by the Cuban government. Undeniably, the Cuban population was stuck in time and therefore so were their cars. Today, tourists from everywhere come to see the most concentrated historical car collection in the whole world.

La Havana Ice Cream
Our favourite ice-cream in La Havana, this mocha and mint-pineapple gelato tastes like heaven. Believe me, we are expert in ice-cream tasting with 5 months experience through the Class Afloat ports.

Later that day, we sat in the Revolution National Park where street artists were demonstrating their talent and we attended a demonstration of the fabrication of cigars. As a Class Afloat tradition, we wandered around the city trying to find the best ice-cream shop. The little gelato bar we found in the old city near the waterfront named Gelateria is second on the “Best Ice-Cream on the Class Afloat Itinerary”, only to be beat by Barcelona, Spain. The time flew by as we ate several ice-creams – it was simply impossible not to taste every flavour they offered – rested in the AC and contacted our families with the free Wi-Fi. To finish the day on a healthier note, we went to a fruit market in a residential neighbourhood of La Havana and bought the Bomb Fruit (commonly known as papaya), guava, pineapple, banana and baby watermelon. We ate some of the exotic fruits and kept the other ones for an upcoming day at sea.

Before leaving Cuba, it was unthinkable not to go salsa dancing, as it is a big part of this island’s culture. With the rich and sensual music, dancers get together and let their feet guide their movement. Precise or clumsy, everyone can be charmed by that type of Latin American dance. Unfortunately, the salsa night was cancelled, and we had to find a plan B. We had the idea to go to this famous jazz house, a few corners away from where we were. That was not a successful move either, the jazz music would only start in 2 hours… It was not a problem for my group, we always find the good in every unfortunate situation. After the salsa and the jazz plans failed, we ended our night on a good note by having our own little dance party in the taxi on our way back to our room.

The perfect ending to this lively port was a grilled Cuban sandwich and a sugary lemonade on the last day. We spent the last hours in the narrow streets of La Havana surrounded by the touristic shops, the enthralling street art, the astonishing architecture, and the roaring cars. We took some photos, bought a few gifts for our families, and it was already the time to return to the vessel. We decided to end our adventure in Cuba in the most predictable way: we jumped in this bright, barbie pink car, an American convertible Chevrolet from the 50s, and caught a ride to the port. Even if we felt more like tourists than travellers at that precise moment, we enjoyed the familiar sensation of our hair dancing in the wind, the distinctive horn from our car, the 1950s vibe, and the way people were looking at us. Later that evening, a few minutes after our departure, the crew enjoyed the colourful sunset setting behind the well-known Capitol roof as we caught our last glimpse of the zealous Cuban city.

72 percent of the earth’s surface is covered in water. We don’t call it the blue planet for nothing. You can travel as much as you want but you will never be able to see all the beauty of this blue planet. Every time at sea is different. Every time is sensational. Every time is exceptional. Sailing the oceans is a lifelong project. Not only because it takes time but because you need to develop skills and abilities to do it.

For some people, sailing is the best feeling ever and for others it’s the worst. This perception is dependent on whether you spend your time puking because of the waves or you get the feeling of being gently rocked. My experience started 5 months ago, and it is easy to say that what I’m doing is clearly my best experience ever. The last 5 months passed way faster than I expected. Like I said, every time on the ocean is different. We just ended our sail from Dominican Republic to Havana, Cuba. A pleasantly sunny eight-day sail in the Caribbean, one of more to come. I have so much to talk about but let’s focus on the most important things.

Whale watching
We spent at least an hour gazing at the whales, shouting excitedly whenever one surfaced. There was about 6 wales around the boat following us all day. According to Cody, they were minke whales. Their length is about 7 to 10 meters long and their weight is between 5 and 10 tons. It was really impressive to see. We were able to see their white bellies flashing under the water, which made it easy to spot them.

Every time I come back on board after a port I feel like I am coming home. Yes my home is a boat. That might sound crazy but living with 60 other young people is incredible. It is fun to discover new things but being able to do it with a group of friends and sharing the experience makes it so much more fun. The sail between the Dominican Republic and Cuba was really something for every one. The 4 first days were like the others. We all had our regular schedules like usual: class, then watch, then free time, and finally night watch. Some people use their free time to read, other to study, and some use it as a nap time. I prefer to use this time to workout to spend energy and stay in shape with my friends Lukas, Vincent, Tristan and Seb.

The fifth day, we had visitors who changed and disrupted our schedule a little bit. My geography class was about to start when we heard a shout: WHALES PORT SIDE !!! There is nothing better than missing class to see marine life swimming alongside the boat. They were HUGE. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen whales since the beginning of our worldwide voyage but it the first time they were that close. As they breached, one would like to the think they were smiling at us with their big docile eyes. Then they would dip back under, turning their bellies up, cajoling and playing. I took this picture of students staring in awe during supposed class time.

The following days were also really fun. We had sun every day and the weather was perfect. The size of the waves were also perfect because they were not big enough to make people sick but just enough to destabilize our feet. If you know me, you know what I like to do when it’s moving: go aloft with Lukas. We went up there for the sunset and to feel the waves from a different height. If you think about it, the higher you go, the more you feel the motion of the waves, which is really fun if you like adrenaline. For the following picture, people that are afraid of heights should not look.

The sail between Dominican Republic and Cuba was an incredible experience full of discovery and adrenaline. Nothing is better than traveling the world, learning about new things every day. Like my mom said, traveling makes people grow.

During our visit in the Dominican Republic we worked with the Foundation Mahatma Ghandi. Mahatama Ghandi is a community volunteer Organization. The organization is called Mahatma Gandhi because they follow Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of self empowerment, leadership, justice, equality and peace. We spent three days in a community around Las Terranas painting houses, building playgrounds and integrating with the locals.

On our first day we spent hours fighting bedbugs, making sure that our sea chests were empty and all our clothes labelled before being mixed up with other people’s clothes in the laundry. When we finally got off the boat it was raining, and I was really tired. I felt like just going to bed, but I made the effort to move my feet towards the big bus waiting for us just outside the port. I fell asleep on the bus and suddenly the bus came to a halt: we had arrived! We got dropped off at a restaurant where food was all prepared for us.

Dominican Republic Stop
This is one of the houses that we painted. We were not able to reach half of the roof! so only half of the roof is painted blue. When the girls and I saw the house that we had painted from this angle we couldn’t stop laughing, it was clearly not professional but the lady in the house seemed happy with our work.

Students rushed to grab plates. We could not take our eyes off all the food in the big buffet. After eating a lovely meal, Jose the founder of Mahatma Gandhi gave us a speech about the work we would be doing the next couple of days in the different communities. After his speech we set off on a hike to a waterfall, which is the second most visited tourist destination in Dominican Republic. After some time, we could hear the water spray. When we saw the waterfall we were astonished by how big and beautiful it was.

Some students went for a swim in the cool pool of emerald green water at the bottom of the waterfall. When we were done taking pictures and swimming, we hiked to a view point where we had a picture perfect view of the waterfall with green lush mountain tops all around and the sun setting in the horizon. The view was beautiful!

We now had to hike down and it was getting dark! On the way, we met many obstacles such as muddy paths and rivers that we had to cross blind as bats, something was bound to happen. Some boys took the initiative to carry people across the river. I got a piggy back ride across the river and as I thought it was all good, we were told to wait because Emma had fallen on the way and had sprained her ankle. Cody ran to get help and somehow he managed to find a horse. We were all waiting in the dark, hungry and concerned, when suddenly Emma appeared behind us riding the horse. We all cheered when she came riding into the crowd!

After all that excitement we went to have pizza at the beach in Las Terrenas. We were all hungry so we were happy to have a whole pizza of our choice. I had the vegetarian pizza and it was really good. After pizza, we met our hosts for our home stays and then we headed out in small groups to the different villages. My group went to the village Barbacoa, and we were about 7 girls and Ms. Siobhan.

The next day in the morning we had breakfast at a local little place called Picapollo Comedor. We had bananas, papaya, toast with ham and cheese, and juice. After breakfast, we set off to paint peoples’ houses. When painting, the locals helped out as well so we got the job done very fast. When we were done painting we had lunch at Picapollo Comedor and then Maria Victoria (the person who was in charge of us) took us to the beach. The beach was beautiful, with crystal clear water shimmering in the sun and a long coastline with fine sand. It was nice to swim, especially after sweating so much that it felt like I had just taken a bucket shower! After swimming, Maria Victoria gave us snacks to eat and the founder/president of the organization drove us back.

Dominican Republic
This is a picture of the kids from the community playing on the sea saws that we made and painted together.

When we got back, we changed out of our soaking wet swim suits and then we went for dinner. After dinner, Siobhan invited us for ice cream at a little local place. The lady at the shop gave us several big scoops of her pink strawberry ice cream in large cups. While eating our big cups of pink ice cream we went to the basketball court where we played basketball with some boys from the village. We were not very good compared to them but we still gave it our best shot, and it was so much of fun! I could not stop laughing! People were watching us and cheered every time one of us scored or when one of the boys did a really good move. It is definitely one of the most memorable experiences from our stay in the community. I enjoyed just hanging out with the local kids which were around our age.

On the last day, we had breakfast at Picapollo Comedor, the little local place where we had been eating every day, and then we went to the basketball court to help build a play ground. We painted together with the local kids. When we were done painting we had different colours of paint all over us. We helped each other to get clean with paint thinner but some of it we just couldn’t get rid of. When we were done with the playground, we went to our rooms to relax before going back to the playground for a dinner-party to celebrate the work that had been done.

A lot of people from Class Afloat joined us and all the kids we had worked with came as well. We had some traditional food; we ate rice, soup, potato and fish. For drinks we had coconuts which we opened after drinking them to eat the meat as a desert; it was all super tasty. After eating we danced some bachata and it was a lot of fun. I tried to move my hips like you are supposed to, but I was nowhere close to being as good as the locals. I felt like a robot.

I spent the rest of the night talking to the kids using sign language that I made up and saying some Spanish words in between simple English sentences. I used a lot of sí, no and no lo sé. I wish I knew a bit more Spanish.

I think it is cool that the kids built their own playground and it is impressive how the whole community came together. All the kids came as well to make this project happen. However, a lot of the time I found myself looking at people doing work while eating a lollipop. I wanted to be helpful but they did the jobs so much better and in the end it is their playground, not mine. However, I did get a lot out of spending time in a community and getting to know the people there, and I really enjoyed playing basketball with the boys and dancing bachata with my friends and the little kids.

The next morning we said goodbye to all the kind welcoming people that we had met during our stay in the village and then we headed off to town where we meet the others. Together we had a big traditional lunch and then we had some shore leave where some went to the beach whilst others went to go get ice cream. I had really good hazelnut and cherry ice cream. It was nice to end the trip with a good cold ice cream next to the beach.

Cuba… May I ask, what are the first things that come to your mind when you hear “Cuba”? Most likely, it is probable that you are picturing long stretching eternal beaches and a forever shining sun like I did before my journey here in Cuba. Of course, I did believe that Cuba had more than just these features, but what I saw here swept me off my feet. Yes, it has all these things, but so much more…

When I first stepped foot in Havana on January 14th, I cannot deny the fact that I was quite surprised. The first thing that struck me was the architecture of the city which took my breath away. I was surprised by the beauty of the buildings that were still standing after everything the country has seen.

Through its colonization by Spain, its role in the African slave importation, its independence, its impressive technological development, its Revolution and much more, Cuba has been influenced by various foreign cultures and has built its magic around it. The details present in the architecture and the different colours of each structure incorporate the rich heritage of a diverse population now unified. It was absolutely beautiful.

On our first day, we jumped into buses and went on a tour organized by the government to learn more about Cuba. What the tour guide was saying was informative, but we could barely pay any attention as we were captivated by the landscapes, the people walking in the streets, and the rhythm of life there. After the tour, we had the opportunity to go explore Havana by ourselves. Most of us walked around trying to open our eyes as wide as possible as if we believed that we could see more by doing that. It was captivating. It seemed like the people there were walking at a unique pace, at their own rhythm. I went to bed with the feeling I had learned so much about this distinct country only by observing the people.

The next morning, most of us woke up around eight o’clock and breakfast was served across the street in a little restaurant. There, there was a piano, and many talented students played lovely melodies throughout breakfast. After, an optional tour was available and I took part in it. Honestly, this was the best tour of my life! The activity was led by an economist and there we learned about the Revolution, about how people live their lives under a communist government, and about everything that concerns the every day of a typical Cuban.

My whole perspective about Cuba shifted. I feel like what I know now about Havana is very little and yet, it is enough for me to realize how uninformed I was . There is so much more than just sandy beaches, shining sun, and salsa music! In fact, this place is beautiful because of all these things but fundamentally, because all the people work together for the better, to build their communities: there is an essence, a fire, a sustainable energy that propels, that keeps on progressing, and that expands their culture.

Penelope Blog 1

Let’s look at music for example! It happens, sometimes, that we believe we know something but in reality, the knowledge we possess represents a tiny fraction of the thing itself. In the past, I have heard many South American artists and multiple songs reflecting Cuba’s traditional music, but what I heard here in Cuba, what I felt, was nothing that I’ve experienced before. Musicians were releasing their magic everywhere, bringing light and joy to every being. It was heart-lifting. The energy here, the very aliveness of Havana is like the wind, something that cannot be seen but can only be felt, and we felt it.

My friends and I really wanted to experience the life of Cuban through music. On our last night in Havana, we made it our mission to dance to every melody we could hear, wandering with excitement in the streets. We must have burst into more than a dozen different places: restaurants, live music areas in the streets, and dance scenes! I felt like I was part of the people there. Us four girls would enter a restaurant and grab a person by the arm that was sitting to bring them to dance. We laughed so much! And the people there too! They were surprised and the musicians seemed to play with even more intensity. Every heart was filled with joy and that is what Cuba is about: spontaneity, courage, colour, music, happiness. That night was one of the best nights of my life and we shall forever remember it.

The next day, I woke up at 6 o’clock to watch the last sunrise in Cuba for this voyage. The sky was a bright red-orange colour, old Havana stretched in front of me in its beauty and from the seventh floor of our apartment building, I could see, slowly, the entire city waking up. The day went by so fast and little did I know, I was back on the ship saying my goodbyes to this inspiring, amazing, and up-lifting country.

In the end, Cuba made many of us realize how easy it is to be guided or influenced by preconceived thoughts when entering a new place. This country has so much more to offer than what we are told and I believe, the only way to overcome that barrier is to go out there, to observe, to experience, to jump in, to be guided, to be open, and to learn. The best way to discover this place, Havana, or any place, is to put aside everything you though you knew and to simply live in the moment. In the end, if there’s anything that I would encourage anybody to do while traveling would be to just see it!

The Gulden Leuuw was gracefully leaving Hamilton harbour, slowly making her way into calm waters. The last tears and screams of our parents faded until they were another engraved memory in our minds. I left Bermuda refilled with energy and good vibes, thanks to my Mother’s visit whom I had missed a lot.


After the rough sail that we had from Cuba to Bermuda, I departed for the big journey (18 days of sailing until reaching the Azores) with a positive attitude. I could feel the good spirits of the student crew, even with this big challenge ahead of us. For the majority of us, we felt ready. We had 6 months of sailing background. We had sailed through the cold English Channel at the beginning. We had lived through our first big storm while getting to Morocco. We had crossed the South Atlantic a couple of months earlier. Finally, we had survived our passage through the famous Bermudan Triangle that has taken the life of so many sailors in the past. We also packed as many snacks as we could. Just to give you an idea, the bench where we put all our snacks broke because of the crazy amount of food that we, teenagers, packed!

As the first days of sailing passed, it was harder to focus in class and see the bright side of things. Adjusting to sea life always takes a few days. During this time, falling into negativity is sometimes so much easier and tempting because you are tired and soar. Between day watch, school, homework, and night watch, our days are long and our free time is short. When I get woken up at 5:40 every morning for watch, I usually tell myself: What would I do to be able to stay in bed, just one day? What would I do to sleep in a big comfy bed until I naturally wake up?

After this complaining part of my morning routine, I go up to the bridge deck. It is pitch black. I see the beautiful stars. We set one sail, or we take down one, and then the sky becomes brighter. The black becomes navy blue and then beams of light make their appearance. Splashes of pink, yellow and orange flourish in the sky. I eat my breakfast, drink my coffee and I suddenly say to myself how lucky I am to be here at seven o-clock in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The sixth day of this long journey, I go up again for my morning watch and the size of the waves amazes me. The wind goes up to 40 knots! Waves are huge, even gigantic. The boat feels small, surrounded by this infinite, powerful amount of water. Waves splash everywhere on deck, giving unwanted salty showers to the crew.

Stormy Sky

Eating without spilling your plate everywhere, showering, or just standing up without falling becomes a daily life challenge. Your body is always adjusting itself to the constant heeling of the ship. Your muscles are never totally relaxed, which is exhausting for everybody. At the same time, it is also my favourite moment. I am tired but also thrilled by what I am doing. I have the impression of accomplishing something by being able to be a part of the work that makes us travel from one unknown place to another, to be able to work with others in order to master the power of the ocean.

Of course, school in rough weather is not the easiest thing as you can imagine. You cannot leave your pen on the table because it will fall and you will not find it again. Having a moving classroom isn’t really practical but, from the outside, it must seem quite funny.

In 10 days, I will be in the Azores. In only three months, this adventure will be over. The first 6 months went by fast, therefore I know that the last part will fly by. This is why I need to live to the fullest the bad as much as the good because this is a once in a lifetime experience that will define the adult I will become.

Even since I hopped aboard, I always wanted a ship’s pet. Imagine a boat dog or a boat cat wandering around. This wish was immediately wiped from my mind the second I spotted my first dolphin. That’s the thing about Class Afloat, we have a sea full of the world’s most amazing species. I can tell you that nothing shoots up the crew’s morale like a spontaneous visit from our aquatic friends (other than pizza night).

Aboard the Gulden Leeuw, class comes first… most of the time. Today is another beautiful day in the Caribbean, and only one thing could make it better. During my global geography class, we heard Joe yell, “Whales!” Everybody in class lurched from their seats, scrambled over the tables and over each other, and were at the aft deck in less than 10 seconds. This was incredibly impressive for such a large amount of people. It seems that the “no running on deck” rule gets overlooked for these events, or else the teachers would probably be in trouble too. The excitement in the air is enough to make anyone happy.

Imagine 60 people at the aft (the back) of the boat, all huddled together hopeful to spot a whale far off in the distance. Today, our sea friends were much more curious. With “ouuuuu’s” and “ahhhh’s” from the crowd, two whales surfaced not even 20 feet from the ship! We could see their colours and sleek shape so clearly. Just like dolphins, they swam gracefully and effortlessly in the waves. They would surface with a wave than dip down under the hull and reappear on the other side of the boat. Sometimes they’d pop their heads out of the water or swim upside down under water, exposing their white bellies. Nate, one of the AB’s, said that he even saw one jump enthusiastically out of the water and land on its back.

Minke Whale
A screenshot from a beautiful video Austin took of a Minke Whale. 8-10 meters long; they swim with such elegance and ease.

We pulled out a whale identification book and hurriedly started flipping through it. Seeing the whales so close by made it easy to say they were minke whales. I remember our old whale-educated AB, Sammy, say that minke whales smell terrible. Often, you can smell them before you see them. This time, the minkes smelled better than we did (just the guys, it’s girls shower day).

More minkes appeared and put on a show. It was like Sea World, except sustainable, not cruel and in the actual sea. So not at all like Sea World actually. I love how we are able to appreciate nature without disturbing it. Marine animals curiously approach our boat, we never alter course to chase them. When we sailed into the Dominican-Republic last week, it was sperm whale mating season. Impressive whales appeared throughout the day causing excitement and happy smiles aboard. What wasn’t as great to watch were the small whale watching boats overflowing with tourists. They would constantly try and follow the whales as closely as possible, disrupting their elegant peace. Imagine if you were trying to mate and a boat full of tourists followed the entire time revving a loud motor. Privacy is key. It’s important to observe and not disturb. We have already done enough damage to their homes; the least we can do is be responsible visitors.

Sorry about that tangent, back to the minkes. After the best 45-minute performance, students started trickling back into class. Our new friends continued to be curious about the metal-bellied mamma whale we call home. They stayed for a large part of the afternoon; riding the waves and playing hide and seek. What a beautiful day at sea.

During our many journeys in the Atlantic, we’ve seen countless Common Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Sperm Whales, Fin Whales, Pilot Whales, Minke Whales, jellyfish, turtles and more. For every visit, we drop what we’re doing (unless it’s an important sail maneuver), huddle together, and appreciate how lucky we are. We value experiential learning, and observing amazing marine organisms definitely classifies as such. Today’s events were added to my long list of amazing Class Afloat moments. The list just seems to get longer and longer.

After a wonderful homestay in Dominican Republic, I had to come back to my good old ship, the Gulden Leeuw. While some of us were urging to come back to the ship, I was focusing on the gigantic pile of clean clothes that was waiting to get sorted out. After a couple minutes of procrastination, I pulled my sleeves up and with the help of other floaties, we began our mission. Following several hours of dedicated work, the big pile of clothing was now resting as a small puzzle of socks and underwear. At the end of this unfortunate event, we could finally set sails in direction to Cuba.

What first started rough, soon enough became a smooth and relaxing sail. First of all, the ocean was extremely generous with us. Joseph and captain Robert had the opportunity to catch more mahi-mahi and tuna than in the past three sails combined. Even for a guy from the Cayman Islands, Joe confirmed that his most recent catch was the biggest one he had ever seen in his life! More than 18kg of fresh mahi-mahi taken right from the open market of the Atlantic Ocean. This gave us a taste of what amazing sea creatures we would be admiring for the next week.

Shortly after our blessed fishing, the captain and I had the chance to spot more than a dozen whales who were playing with the small waves created by the Gulden Leuww. Luckily for us, the wind was in our favour, blowing smoothly at our backs, making it another memorable week in the Caribbean.

Img 5055 10Only after a couple of days, some of us were already missing land. Not actually missing the land, but more like missing old habits, routines or favourite meals. Can we just all agree that there’s nothing like eating a meal you have been craving for weeks? A simple Fanta would put a smile on anybody’s face at this point.

Having seven days makes this the longest sail for our new floaties. Although we are staying positive about the Atlantic crossing, the maritime crew aren’t hiding the fact that it is going to be a great challenge for us. As a matter of fact, I feel remarkably positive about this crossing because of the great start we just had. Our next stop will be Bermuda where most of us, even teachers and crew, will have the opportunity to see our relatives one last time before another we go away for another three months.

Even if it’s a harsh thing to say, I have to admit that I am enjoying myself way too much to be missing home right now. If you think about it, we are sixty students and eighteen crew who are all traveling around the world. How can that be hard? Am I not right? Well it’s by looking at the bright side of things that we quickly forget about our daily chores, since in the end, it’s not all that bad. Doing cleaning stations, rust busting, painting, and sanding are all things that make us more competent at the end of the day. We should be grateful that we now have the skills to work efficiently. In our short sails like this one between Dominican Republic and Cuba, we tend to forget why we do everything we do. It’s only when we do longer sails that we realize how important our duties are to keep our ship sanitary and organized.

Following the good work of Watch One, the Gulden Leeuw can finally rest at anchor along the shore of Havana. Even though we had problems that came along the way, we can finally say that our third sail was successful. Some of us had our ups and down, but we all eventually get over it since that’s what we do on Class Afloat. Pushing our limits becomes rapidly part of our daily routine and that’s how we get through longer sails. I am feeling very positive for Cuba since I know that all of our hard work during the past week wasn’t for nothing and it will ultimately pay off.

Selection criteria: Photos must be taken by a Class Afloat student and must have been posted on Instagram (not necessarily taken) during the month – or in this case months – for which they are to be considered for Top Ten.

We will do our best to share photos from all students and to be fair, we’ll try not to post more than one photo from each student (although it may happen from time to time).

Note: This is not a serious contest. This is a way of showcasing our students’ awesomeness. We thank all students for sharing their photos and would like to remind everyone that you can find all pictures shared by students by following us on Instagram.

We had a beautiful sail from Dominica to the Dominican Republic. We sailed into the Dominican Republic on a beautiful calm morning and were welcomed by dozens of Humpback Whales! It was a truly amazing sight and we very happily ran from class hearing the excited calls of “Whale”. It was a truly breath taking sight and a perfect way to begin our stay in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican Republic
Some of our painting was not very easily accessible and required different measures to reach the spots that were high up.

On our first day in the Dominican Republic we packed our bags ready for our homestays and began our Dominican Republic experience with a hike to the Limon waterfall. It was a half day hike and we all enjoyed the waterfall swim and walk back, with a pizza dinner by the beach in Las Terrenas driving us on. We arrived in Las Terrenas and split into different groups to enjoy pizza by the beach. The pizza was delicious and with full bellies and happy faces, we were ready to make our way to our homestays. We were all split up into different homestays staying in groups of two to ten.

While in our homestays (between being fed way too much delicious food) we helped out in the community painting colourful houses. It seemed like a small job but it was a way in which we could get involved in the community and give a little back. It was also a great opportunity for us to get to know our homestay family even better as they joined us to help with the painting of many of the houses. We all had a vastly different experience within our home stays. The experience that I had is one I will truly never forget.

Some of our painting was not very easily accessible and required different measures to reach the spots that were high up.

Throughout my time in the homestay I had the opportunity to get to know my host family very well and got to experience many knew things. The homestay that I stayed in with three other students was amazing. We instantly felt as if we had been adopted by the parents and son, meeting the extended family throughout our stay and feeling truly part of the family. There was not a moment that we didn’t feel welcome and never a minute that we had hungry tummies.

Limon Waterfall
Limon Waterfall in the Dominican waterfall. The waterfall was amazing and I felt truly at ease swimming in the beautiful cool, clear water.

On our last night at our homestays we got together with students from other homestays and enjoyed a Dominican dinner at the local basketball court with many local children too. We ate lots, danced a bit and had heaps and heaps of fun. Although there was a language barrier between the children and us it made no difference to the amount of fun we had. The smiles on our faces and the children’s when we were dancing together and having piggy back rides is something I will truly never forget. It was the people of the Dominican Republic that made it such an amazing stay.

One of the most powerful parts of my time in the Dominican Republic was the time spent getting to know the people of the Dominican Republic. They were so welcoming and always introduced themselves to us. As many of them spoke very little or no English it would be guessed that it would be nearly impossible to communicate, but the people there were different; they welcomed us with big warm smiles. No words were needed and this made the relationships even stronger. Many of the family members of our homestay also could not speak English and, even though we were leaving having spent very little time conversing with them, I felt like I knew them so well. Even just a hug and a reflective moment when leaving showed the depth of our relationship and the sadness of leaving.

Having said a sad goodbye to our homestay families on the last day, we then spent the afternoon in Las Terrenas. We had one last buffet lunch and then spent the afternoon exploring and enjoying the beach. Catching the bus back to the ship preparing to sail out the next day, I reflected on the amazing time that I had and remembered the amazing people that made my experience great. The Dominican Republic is definitely a place I would consider returning to in the future and my homestay an unforgettable experience that I will hold dearly in my heart.

Class Afloat provides students with various opportunities and tools to experience the ocean first-hand and as up close and personal as possible. Climbing aloft and venturing out into the bowsprit to work with sails and to do maintenance, as well as relaxing during our free time are some of the amazing ways we get to experience the wonders of the ocean.

Although somewhat daunting at first, many students love the feeling of being suspended above the water or standing 40m above deck looking out at the never-ending blue. Some of our crew prefer being up aloft, but for others, the bowsprit is the perfect spot.

The Gulden Leeuw student crew
The Gulden Leeuw student crew up on the foxhole and the bowsprit, enjoying a calm day in the Mediterranean Sea.

The bowsprit is the forward most appendage of the Gulden Leeuw, very noticeable when admiring our Dutch home. It is where the three jib sails lay on the j’boom — the large metal rod that protrudes from the bow of the ship. It is surrounded by netting which allows the student and maritime crew to work with the three head sails. In addition, it provides a comfortable place to lay and stare at the infinite beauty that continuously surrounds us, something that many students enjoy during their spare time.

Afraid of heights? That’s not an issue! Climbing and working aloft is not a must on Class Afloat; no one is ever forced to go. The bowsprit is an awesome alternative for those who want to see more of the ocean while remaining level with the deck. There’s a certain rush as you drop down with the swells and feel the mist lightly brush over your skin as you do so. The sensation of being weightless as the ocean carries you to your next spectacular destination is something that everyone should experience. The undulating motion of the ocean rocking you back and forth is a calming movement that lulls you to sleep as the warm sun basks over you.

The bowsprit is the perfect place for lovers of marine life, whether you’re out there for watch or for your own pleasure; the sights are something to behold. The first time I ever went out on the bowsprit we saw a pod of dolphins as soon as we stepped into the netting. We watched the pod of common dolphins play in the wake of the bow for over two hours! It was an unreal and stunning experience that not very many people get the chance to encounter. They are truly majestic creatures whose ability to move effortlessly through the sea is simply an unbelievable sight.

Doplins and bowsprit
A pod of common dolphins off the coast of northern France in the English channel. We had a great view from the bowsprit as they spent two hours playing with the propulsion of the bow.

Class Afloat provides their students with opportunities and resources to experience marine life in a very personal way simply by living aboard the Gulden Leeuw. It also presents us with the tools we need to explore our interests in the ocean by offering an oceanography course for high school students alongside a marine biology course for university students. By allowing us to venture out into the bowsprit during our free time or during these class times, Class Afloat students have a unique, hands-on opportunity to observe what others may ever only see via documentaries. The ability to admire the ocean which we are proud to call our home every moment of everyday is heightened when taking the time to venture out into the netting of the bowsprit.

Taking the time out of one’s day to sprawl out in the bowsprit is one hundred percent worth it. It is a relaxing place where you can be alone with your thoughts or chatting with your friends as your reality drifts away and melds with the endless ocean. The day before arriving in the Dominican Republic, myself along with a few other students hurried out to watch the sunset behind a Caribbean island whose name we did not know. Sitting with those who share such deep admiration in the serenity of such quiet moments reminds you of what truly matters in life, a deep sense of connection through these beautiful experiences. Every day, I look forward to the next moment.

We departed from Cuba with a beautiful sunset of different tones of pink and yellow. We could still see the shape of the city of Havana getting smaller and smaller as we initiated our last sail before the crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean. Ten days can seem to take forever when you have class every day, but we were all very excited to discover if the mystery about the Bermuda triangle was just a myth or not.

One of the amazing whales jumping out of the water, giving us an unbelievable show.

We were indeed very feverish about the first squall at the beginning of this voyage. It started with a breeze taking more strength every hour. The next morning, the wind was like a knife cutting through our summer clothes, reaching for our bodies. I started to feel sea sick again with the motion of the boat increasing in intensity. The only place where I felt good was outside, so I bundled myself in my foulie coat and trousers and passed my free time on the deck. The enormous waves were striking every half minute and I then realized that we have really improved our sailing skills. As a trainee, sometimes you don’t know at all what you are doing on the ship. However, with the knowledge we acquired during the first semester and the dedication most of the students put in their watch, we now have a remarkable background of experience. That was the first time I truly realized we were not trainees anymore, but sailors!

I was reflecting on that while I heard a tumult of voices coming from the Bridge Deck. I made my way as fast as possible up the stairs to see what the cause of that cacophony was. A group of three or four whales were leaping out of the water, giving us an extraordinary view of their whole body. It was the first time I saw a whale jump completely out of the water. They were making their way out of the ocean before they fell back as quickly as they came up. You could hear the gasp of the amazed students when it hit the water. It’s crazy how whale and dolphins can brighten up your day when you are living at sea, even for a fraction of a second.

After a couple of days, we got out of the storm with only two ripped sails and some trainees rustled by sea sickness. Even if it can be mentally challenging to navigate through a squall, I think that’s when you learn the most.

forty-pound Mahi-Mah
Joe posing with the monster of the Caribbean, a forty-pound Mahi-Mahi.

When the sun came back from its hiding place and the wind was more indulgent, some students took out their fishing gear. We caught more fish during this sail than we did through the whole first semester. Joe, one of the students and the Gulden Leeuw’s fishing expert, caught several Mahi-Mahis. One afternoon, I was passing through the breezeway during my watch when I saw a considerable amount of blood staining the beige paint of the deck. Fear pounded through my veins. What had happened? Was anyone badly injured? To my relief, I discerned it was coming from the beast lying on the floor. A forty pound Mahi-Mahi had been extracted from the water after an intense fight. The monster had bright green and blue scales and an enormous forehead. The next day we had the best fish tacos I have ever had. The fish was fresh and the only seasoning, lemon juice, added the perfect amount of acidity to the meal.

That night, some trainees and crew members had the chance to see the takeoff of a rocket. It was only a bright light making its way through the dark sky, but the idea of it was really impressive. One of the best parts about living on a boat is the astonishing number of stars that stud the sky.

This voyage from Cuba to Bermuda was an amazing experience. Not only because we had cookies every night made by the baking club, but because it entirely changed my perspective of sailing and of myself.

After spending a wonderful time in the Dominican Republic, staying with different families and doing community work such as painting houses and building a playground, we set off on an eight-day sail towards Havana. Before leaving Dominican Republic, many students did some last shopping for snacks such as chocolate and granola bars to fill up our snack bags (all students have our own snack bag, where we keep our personal snacks) for the sail.

We started off the sail with baking club’s top-secret operation circle. At night, after study hall, we met up down in galley (the kitchen) and then we started cutting out the dough, which was already prepared, for bagels. When the dough was cut, we rolled the dough up into little balls that we then pressed with our fingers to shape them like little halos. While we were doing that, we also put a big pot of water over the stove. Making bagels is an art.

When the water was hot enough, Mairead balanced the bagels on her arms and I threw them into the hot pot of water. Brie, the medical officer, stated a timer and Mauricio flipped the bagels around so that each side of the bagels got about 40 seconds in the boiling water. When the bagels had boiled for the right amount of time, we fished them out and then Ingrid and Stephanie sprinkled cheese and roasted seeds on top of them. We then put the bagels in the oven until they became a beautiful golden-brown colour. While the bagels were in the oven, the whole galley smelled like heaven. When the bagels were done, the people in baking club enjoyed having a little bagel party where we each had half a bagel to taste; they were delicious.

Class Afloat Anastasia 2

After our little bagel party, we made the last effort to clean up the galley before going to our bunks and getting some rest before getting up for watch (on the boat we have night watch where we are responsible for sailing the ship). I was extremely tired so I feel asleep immediately.

The next morning, I got up as soon as I heard the music playing in the dorms (we play music for wake ups), because I did not want to miss breakfast that day! I got dressed and ran up the stairs to join the line for food. Everyone was grateful to have homemade bagels for breakfast and people kept telling us how much they enjoyed them.

Later in the day my Global Geography class got interrupted by minke whales! We were sitting in class working on an assignment when suddenly someone shouted that there were whales outside! We all ran outside and rushed to the aft (back) of the boat where we saw a giant group of minke whales. There were whales everywhere I looked, and they were super close to the boat! They were coming from the aft and swimming under the boat. We could see the white shadow of their belly when they gracefully turned around in the water. I was speechless. We have seen whales before on Class Afloat, but never this close and so many at a time. I missed about 30min of class but it was totally worth it for this amazing experience.